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If this is so Easy, Why is it so Hard to Do?

If this is so Easy, Why is it so Hard to Do?. John Lee UNC Conference: Student Success “A Campus-Wide Commitment” October 24, 2007. What is the Problem?.

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If this is so Easy, Why is it so Hard to Do?

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  1. If this is so Easy, Why is it so Hard to Do? John Lee UNC Conference: Student Success “A Campus-Wide Commitment” October 24, 2007

  2. What is the Problem?

  3. Grades and test scores, rather than privilege, determine success today, but that success is largely being passed down from one generation to the next. A nation that believes that everyone should have a fair shake finds itself with a kind of inherited meritocracy.New York Times, May 24, 2005

  4. Research and theory on student persistence have yet to influence, on a national scale, student persistence in higher education

  5. According to a 2003 report by ACT, the five-year graduation rates at four-year institutions throughout the past 20 years have ranged from 50.9 percent to 54.6 percent

  6. The enrollment gap between low- and high-income students has shrunk over the last 20 years, but rates of college completion have not improved for low-income students

  7. According to the 2003 ACT report, of those students starting at a 4-year college, 48 percent of low-income students graduate while 67 percent of high income students did so

  8. “There is no one specific type of successful retention organization and/or successful implementation strategy” -Vincent Tinto

  9. There is Agreement on Some Basic Principles

  10. I. Have an institutional focus on student retention and outcomes, not just on enrollment

  11. Consistent Leadership • Strong leadership from top administrators who create an institutional culture that promotes student success. They talk about it, fund it, and recognize success • A central person, office, or committee that coordinates retention activities across academic and student affairs • Use data about retention in the decision-making process, as well as to evaluate retention programs

  12. Institutional focus on student outcomes • Make personnel decisions consistent with improving student outcomes • Communicate the importance of student success, and the expectations for each participant, to the whole college • Be consistent in your efforts • Measure outcomes and report them to the community

  13. Institutional focus on student outcomes • Gain faculty support • Explain that improving student success is not an erosion of standards • Maintain high expectations for student success • How do we engage students in their education?

  14. II. Offer targeted support for underperforming students

  15. Engage Students • Encourage high levels of student involvement and engagement in campus activities and programs. • Create well-developed first-year programs in which student participation is mandatory or high. • Improve instruction in “gatekeeping” introductory courses, particularly in mathematics.

  16. Support for underperforming students • Concentrate on the first year • Profile of an at-risk student • First generation college • Low income • Inadequate academic preparation • Older, with children • Attends part-time

  17. Types of support • Proactive • Identify the problem early • Reach out to the student • Structured • Advising • Mentoring • Find the right help

  18. III. Have well-designed, well-aligned, and proactive student support services

  19. Support Students • Early warning and advising systems to monitor student progress and to intervene when student performance is low. • Academic and social support services that students use due to proactive efforts to coordinate services; these services must be widely advertised. Faculty and staff should be knowledgeable about the available services. • Special programs for at-risk student populations, incorporating effective retention practices.

  20. Critique of student support services • A common problem on many campuses is that efforts directed towards helping first-year students achieve success are “self-contained, uncoordinated, and even unknown to each other”

  21. Be proactive with student support services • Anticipate which students may have problems, and help them before they drop out • Reach out to high-risk students; they will not come to you • Maintain an aggressive advising program

  22. IV. Provide support for faculty development focused on improving teaching

  23. What goes on in the classroom, stays in the classroom • There is no one model for improving teaching; it depends on content • Students must feel that they are learning something worthwhile and are making progress • Student engagement in the learning process is critical

  24. Some obvious solutions • Small classes • Reward good teaching • Regular academic reviews for students • Supplemental support • Develop a teaching/learning center for new faculty

  25. Elements of successful developmental education programs • Context-specific and valued by the learning community • Centrally structured and well coordinated with the organization • Instructors committed to the students and the field • Provide multilevel curricula with credit options and exit criteria • Integration of a variety of instructional methods • Integrate learning and personal development strategies and services • An evaluation system focused on outcomes and continuous program improvement -McCabe & Day, 1998

  26. Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. — Carl Rogers

  27. V. Experiment with ways to improve the effectiveness of instruction and support services

  28. Applied Experiments • Develop a hypothesis—why do you think students drop out? • Run an experiment—make changes to the program • Measure outcomes—did the change make a difference in the outcome? • Accept or reject the hypothesis

  29. Constant improvement • Marginal improvements in specific operations add up • A continuous cycle

  30. VI. Use institutional research to track student outcomes and improve program impact

  31. Track student outcomes • Disaggregate student populations • Student unit record system • Use longitudinal data to identify problems and evaluate outcomes

  32. Soft data sources are important • Student focus groups • Interviews with faculty • Individual class analysis • What are the characteristics of students that drop out prior to the end of the semester? • Why did they leave?

  33. Why is This so Hard to Do?

  34. 1. Mission conflict • Public universities are torn between an impulse toward excellence that leads to an emphasis on research and tighter admission standards, and providing access to a broad range of students

  35. 2. Structural problems • Universities are federations, with a central government overseeing semi-autonomous colleges/schools • The bigger the university, the less attention is paid to student persistence at the top levels of the administration • This makes it difficult to institutionalize a consistent approach to improving student persistence

  36. 3. No coordination among offices • Efforts to improve persistence are often program-specific, and in many cases depend on available extra funding • The programs are often aimed at helping minority and low-income students or students with physical or learning handicaps

  37. 4. Inconsistent data • Most universities do not systematically use data to track their students and see where they have problems • Universities depend on special studies or occasional reports to evaluate their overall success

  38. 5. Incentives • External factors influence the amount of attention persistence receives. These include: • Changes in state support • External accountability requirements • Numbers of student applications • Accreditation requirements

  39. 6. Inadequate Aid • Low-income students work a great deal while they attend the university • Financial aid programs have competing purposes, and may not provide a coherent safety net

  40. 7. Low expectations and effort • With some exceptions, most students do not work very hard in their classes. They attend class sporadically and do not do much work outside of class • If engagement is a key to persistence, this lack of academic engagement may be an important avenue to explore • Faculty should demand more of students

  41. Conclusion • Persistence is a systemic problem, and no one player can fix it • If you don’t change anything, nothing will change • Keep focused on student outcomes -- that is all that counts • Reengineer; don’t add on • Set priorities -- you cannot do it all at once • Keep at it

  42. “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”-Peter Drucker

  43. Thanks to • Jennifer Engle and Colleen O’Brien of the Pell Institute • The Lumina Foundation, which has funded so much of our work

  44. Sources • Raising the Graduation Rates of Low-Income Students, Pell Institute, 2004 • Demography Is Not Destiny: Increasing the Graduation Rates of Low-Income College Students at Large Public Universities, Pell Institute, 2006 • Moving From Theory to Action: Building a Model of Institutional Success, Tinto and Pusser, for NPEC, 2006 • Community College Management Practices that Promote Student Success Jenkins, 2006 CCRC Brief 31

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