Dear WVU Faculty:
Recently, I traveled to Georgia State University with a team of our faculty and administrators to learn more about the institution’s success in increasing student retention and persistence. Georgia State has become a national model for student success, having increased their graduation rates by 23% and closed achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity and income level.It was an amazing visit! We learned about some specific efforts that we can borrow from or emulate. Even more important than the information we received was the inspiration we gained from seeing a university that has gone “all in” on student success. Faculty, administrators, staff and students have all bought into the idea that every student deserves an opportunity and that every student is capable of succeeding in college and beyond, regardless of their background or preparation.
On paper, Georgia State is a very different place than WVU. It is not a land-grant institution; it is an urban-based, regional institution that has an ethnically and culturally diverse student population with high financial need. But there are similarities.
We, too, have a significant number of students who come to us with challenges that can impede their progress. For example, 25% percent of our students are Pell Grant eligible, meaning they have significant financial challenges; 29% of our total student population is first-generation; and 40% of our in-state students are first generation. These are students for whom college-readiness is not necessarily a given or even an expectation.
We know that increasing student retention makes sense from a financial perspective. But it is also a noble mission that we can all rally around. I’d be hard pressed to imagine anything more important and more personally rewarding than helping disadvantaged students overcome obstacles to achieve their goals and become successful and productive adults.
Improving students’ success, including increasing retention, persistence and graduation rates, has become a University priority and prerogative. We are already engaging in a number of retention initiatives that the consultants from TorchStar outlined in their presentation at February’s Faculty Senate meeting. These initiatives include scheduling reform, addressing the issues that lead to high DFW rates, and piloting an emergency grants program to provide financial assistance to seniors (or students with at least 90 credits) who may need just a few extra dollars to meet their tuition bills and finish on time.
We also are taking a long-term strategic approach and looking at efforts that may be larger in scope and require a greater institutional investment. Georgia State, for example, has created a large student support infrastructure that more than supports itself with the tuition it saves annually from increased retention and persistence.
But regardless of what happens at the institutional level, to be truly successful, our entire campus also will need to be “all in” on student success. Since the classroom experience impacts both students’ learning and their academic progress, faculty will have a major role to play. We will engage you in a variety of ways as we identify key opportunities to significantly improve outcomes for our students.
We will never be like Georgia State — nor do we aspire to be in all things. But we can learn from their experience and build our own program that makes student success a top priority and adds to our own sense of purpose and mission.
It’s both smart thing to do and the right thing to do.