Dear WVU Faculty and Instructors:
Happy Friday! I hope that each of you is having a positive start to the new semester. The University seems to be buzzing with activity and a renewed sense of mission and purpose.
As we continue to settle into the school year, I wanted to give you an update on student success, an ongoing priority under our larger Academic Transformation effort. As you may be aware, the Provost’s Office announced its focus on Academic Transformation in January 2020, following a charge from President Gee to transform the University’s academic programming and practices to position WVU for success in a dynamic and challenging higher-education landscape.
It has always been a University priority to provide our students with a high-quality education and support them throughout their academic journey. But drilling down more deeply into how we can help our students succeed has gained urgency. Preliminary data indicates a decline in student retention and persistence rates, suggesting that our students struggled more than usual last year.
The COVID-19 pandemic was most certainly a factor. Some of you may have heard about the “Great Dropout,” with more than a million students nationwide choosing not to return to college post-COVID. We know that our own students struggled with mental health issues and financial challenges. We also know that some of our freshmen may not have been fully prepared for the rigors of college coursework after nearly two years of online or in hybrid instruction.
We are hoping this was a one-time blip, and in fact, the University had been steadily gaining in these metrics over the past five years. Regardless of the potential impacts of COVID-19 on student learning, we know that more effort is needed for us to meet or exceed the student success outcomes of many of our Big 12 and aspirational peers.
We believe it is both possible and imperative that we commit to improving student success. We have an institutional and a moral obligation to help students move forward in their degree progression, enabling them to graduate on time with limited debt — and limitless options.
Improving student success doesn’t require “dumbing down” the curriculum or giving students an easy pass. Rather it means ensuring that we are engaging in the most effective pedagogy, paying attention to our students’ needs, and providing our most vulnerable students with wrap-around support that addresses the variety of challenges they face.
This fall, the Provost’s Office is leading a number of student success initiatives. These include launching our new “Ask Morgan” chatbot that can answer students’ questions 24/7 and direct them to “real people” who can provide them with personalized support. We’re also working with the Eberly College to create a new unit focused on foundational STEM instruction that will use best practices to engage students who struggle in their introductory Math and Science courses.
Another initiative involves developing a targeted, data-driven approach to identify and support the most vulnerable students, such as Pell Grant-eligible and first-generation students, who typically retain at a lower rate than the student population as a whole. And we are also partnering with groups on campus to identify ways to strengthen, support and enhance career-readiness programs, activities and curricular initiatives.
So, how can you help? First, it starts with being understanding and having empathy. The reasons why a student may be failing your class may have nothing to do with their aptitude or their motivation. We know from surveying our students that many of them juggle two or even three jobs while engaged in their studies to be able to pay for college. We know that mental health continues to be a challenge for this generation.
If a student has quit attending class, please reach out through email and explain your concern. If the student does not return to class or respond, please contact your academic advising office for further follow-up. Finally, if you have serious concerns about the mental health of one of your students, you can make a CARE Team referral at https://careteam.wvu.edu/.
In a more global sense, your college and department should be regularly reviewing student success data for your own programs and courses to determine what additional strategies may be necessary to help your students navigate difficult concepts and get them up to speed. The Teaching and Learning Commons (TLC) provides a spectrum of program and services to help support these efforts, such as instructional design consultations, workshops, learning communities, peer support, and a variety of sessions by demand (which can be customized to specific audiences). In addition, be sure to check out the TLC’s video catalog and student success webpage for more ideas and resources.
I also encourage you and your colleagues to revisit your programs and curricula to ensure that course content is rigorous, relevant and responsive to employer needs and student demand. Providing experiential learning opportunities is also important to enable students to gain real-world skills that complement their classroom learning.
Please join me in a University-wide effort to improve student success outcomes in some of the ways that I’ve suggested and through your own creative approaches to pedagogy, student engagement and curricular improvements. Watch for an announcement on Monday about a new mini-grants program designed to inspire and incentivize the creation of new in-demand academic programs.
We can move mountains when we work together with a common purpose and sense of urgency. Thank you for everything you do. Have a great weekend!