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Subject:

Student Success at Public Colleges

From:

Dan Kern <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Tue, 27 Sep 2005 07:31:44 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (258 lines)

Sept. 27


Student Success at Public Colleges


In recent years, educators and policy makers - prodded in part by scrutiny
from politicians - have paid increasing attention not only to student
"access" but to student "success." That is, they have expanded their focus
from ensuring a higher education for as many Americans from as wide a range
of backgrounds as possible to ensuring that as many of those students as
possible actually get a degree once they're in college.

 As colleges have been held increasingly accountable for their graduation
rates and other measures of student success, researchers and policy groups
have issued a plethora of studies and reports aimed at figuring out why some
institutions seem to do a significantly better job graduating their
students, even than other colleges with comparably qualified student bodies.

That is just the puzzle on which three groups - the American Association of
State Colleges and Universities, the Education Trust, and the National
Association of System Heads - seek to shed light in  <http://www.aascu.org>
"A Matter of Culture and Leadership: Student Success in State Colleges and
Universities," which they are releasing today.

The report grew out of the Graduation Rate Outcomes Study undertaken by the
three groups, in which they sought to mine the Education Trust's College
Results Online <http://www.collegeresults.org/>  database to understand "why
some institutions report much higher success rates than similarly situated
institutions and to use this knowledge to provide guidance to campus leaders
about how to improve their own graduation outcomes."

The groups identified six institutions that had maintained high graduation
rates for a long period of time, and six others that had shown significant
improvement in their rates between 1997 and 2002. The associations sent
teams of officials from other colleges to assess each of the 12 institutions
- which, while all are publicly funded state universities, range from
relatively small institutions that focus primarily on teaching, like Truman
State University and Virginia State University, to major research
institutions such as Clemson University.

While all of the institutions have succeeded in keeping students moving
toward their educational goals and adopted a range of programs and policies
toward that end, the report concludes that the colleges' success is "more a
product of an overarching shared culture" - typically driven by strong
leadership from the very top of the institution - "than it is the result of
a narrowly conceived, deliberate 'retention effort.' "

The report briefly describes the sorts of first-year academic programs,
learning communities, and tutoring approaches that institutions have
adopted, but most of it is dedicated to trying to "unpack" what it is about
the institutions' culture and leadership that contributes to their success -
and that other institutions might emulate.

The groups' study finds several major cultural traits that characterized the
12 institutions they examined.

First, the colleges set high expectations for students. Although half of the
institutions had recently raised their admissions standards, the report
emphasizes that several of the high-performing colleges admit most of the
students who apply, and that the real key is that the 12 institutions made
the success of all students a central goal, for the students and themselves.
"What really distinguishes many of these campuses is the pervasive belief
that demography is not destiny: all of the students they admit have the
potential to graduate, and they should all be held to high levels of
expectation," the report states.

At Elizabeth City State University, for example, "faculty members treat
students as they would want someone to treat their own children-greeting
them with a smile, being honest with them, and 'kicking butts' when needed,"
the report says.

The high expectations on these campuses extend beyond students, the authors
contend: Faculty and staff members are expected to play a central role in
monitoring the academic progress of their students - and faculty involvement
is especially crucial at institutions where most students commute and
"faculty contact in the classroom may be the only 'human face' of the
institution students typically see. Another trait viewed as crucial to
helping build a culture for student success on these campuses is the ability
to create a common sense of purpose and mission that helps bind students to
the institution. That kind of atmosphere is common at small liberal arts
institutions, the authors note, but transplanting such a culture to "the
seemingly less fertile ground of the AASCU commuter institution" can be a
challenge.

The institutions managed to create a sense of "belonging," the report says,
through a mix of tactics, policies and practices, including emphasizing the
importance of student success in the faculty hiring process (Truman State
University specifically searches for instructors who attended small liberal
arts colleges as undergraduates and "takes particular care to orient new
faculty into the 'liberal arts and sciences culture' that the institution
seeks to foster) and doing little things that make students feel connected
(such as "feed the students" days at which professors at California State
University Stanislaus and the University of Northern Iowa cook for
students).

And at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal
Justice, students and staff members coalesce around the institution's
distinctive mission of preparing and training fire fighters, police officers
and other public servants.

Strong leadership is the other element that the 12 institutions had in
common, according to the AASCU study. The authors make it clear that they're
not talking about the kind of flashy, surface-deep leadership that tends to
bring chief executives attention in higher education and elsewhere (though
the presidents of these institutions don't necessarily lack charisma, the
report says).

"What tended to set leadership apart for visiting teams at these
institutions were two qualities that were less spectacular, but perhaps more
effective. First, 'leadership' is a shared responsibility - occurring at all
levels and deeply embedded in the way the institution works as an
organization on a day-to-day basis. Second, the particular presidential
qualities needed to build and sustain the culture and organizational
processes observed at study campuses are more about listening than talking,
and more about consistent personal modeling of a particular collective
vision than about spectacular public performances."

The teams that visited the 12 campuses reported while all the presidents,
through their words and actions, set a tone that made clear that the
academic success of students was paramount, the most important thing they
did was decentralizing power so that staff and faculty members throughout
the institutions took responsibility. That approach encourages "the kind of
risk-taking and assumption of responsibility" that produces strong results,
the report says.

"It's all about people and fostering an open-communication environment,
creating community on campus, and hiring those who share an awareness of the
mission." the report quotes Montclair State University's president, Susan
Cole, as saying. "We decide very clearly and without ambiguity from the
center out what needs to be done, but then give lots of freedom to act. We
encourage work across boundaries and out of silos. You have the freedom to
do the work, but you will be held accountable."

In offering advice to presidents and other officials who seek to improve the
retention of students on their campuses, the report focuses not on
instituting "best practice" programs but on a series of practical, but
perhaps more difficult, steps that institutions might take.

The report suggests that the president start a conversation on the campus
about retention and student success, perhaps by providing graduation rate
data showing how the college compares with peer institutions, and follow it
up with by taking stock - through data analysis, interviews and other means
- to figure out whether the institution measures up, and if not, why.

Depending on the answers, the institution must act strategically, avoiding
the quick and dirty implementation of new programs in favor of longer term
approaches - like altering the process of recruiting faculty and staff
members to ensure that furthering the goal of student success is a factor in
searches - that may be harder to achieve but ultimately more important.

The report concludes: "There is no one "magic bullet" that guarantees
success. Simply finding what appears to be a "best practice" combination of
programming and "plugging it in" on campus is unlikely to be sufficient.
Success instead means carefully reading the current campus culture, aligning
people and programs, and making a collective commitment to be in it for the
long haul. And sound presidential leadership is where all of this begins."

- Doug Lederman <mailto:[log in to unmask]>


Comments


"More" is not enough


My Big Sports University's graduation rate (six-year time-spans) for the
last decade has hovered around 65%.

BSU's presidents always ask for "more." Faculty productivity is never
reviewed, measured and evaluated, much less discussed. Staff negotiations
are lengthy and draining. Students have drunken weekend brawls frequently,
upsetting local merchants, homeowners, and the taxpaying public.

What's wrong with this picture?

Parents? K-12 system? Tenure? University unions? Apathetic public?
Geography? Culture? Race? Gender? Too many possible research variables to
make any meaningful statements on generalizability?

Internal reviews are a good first step - a necessary preparation for the
external reviews ahead. There are no "blank checks" written in that process.

R.A.S., Faculty at Small private college, at 7:09 am EDT on September 27,
2005

Got something to say?

Source: http://insidehighered.com/news/2005/09/27/retain































Dan Kern

Reading Skills

East Central College

1964 Prairie Dell Road

Union, Missouri (or MO)  63084-4344

Phone:  636-583-5195 ext. 2426

Fax:  636-583-0513

Email:   <mailto:[log in to unmask]> [log in to unmask]

"What you teach is second to whom

you teach.  If it isn't, please find a 'job'

very far away from students."  (Andy Maedit)



"You teach who you are." (Parker Palmer)



"In response to Palmer's statement, 'You teach who you are.'  Maybe that's
your problem." (Andy Maedit)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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