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Article Posted March 01, 2010

Task Force to USG Presidents: Make Student Success No. 1 Goal for All

Task Force to USG Presidents: Make Student Success No. 1 Goal for All

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them.” This quote from German physicist Albert Einstein set the tone for an interim report from the Graduation Rate Task Force delivered by Regent Willis J. Potts Jr. at the Board of Regents’ March meeting.

Potts, who is vice chair of the board this year and chairman of the task force, said he, Regent Felton Jenkins, Regent Larry R. Ellis, several institutional representatives and University System Office staff are in the process of meeting with the presidents and provosts of each institution in the University System of Georgia (USG) to hear their plans for improving graduation and retention rates.

So far, the task force has met with officials from 11 USG institutions, and Potts presented his observations to date in the form of a list of “the top 10 things our committee has learned in listening to campus graduation-rate struggles.”

He prefaced his remarks by saying, “We have many successes in the system, but I am going to focus on the challenges today, so it may sound negative. Bear with me, and do know that this remains a constructive process. There are many wonderful efforts underway across the state, and we do see the great work among all the challenges.”

  • Campuses are not always defining their [graduation- and retention-rate-related] problems with accuracy. “I am not seeing enough empirical evidence that pinpoints why a retention or graduation rate is low,” Potts remarked.
  • Campuses are not matching solutions to problems as a result. Lacking the data necessary to drive the process, campus officials are not coming up with targeted solutions, he noted.
  • Too many lists, not enough elaboration. “We are being presented with laundry lists of tactics for improving retention and graduation rates borrowed from the higher-education literature, but very little elaboration about why they’re better than any other technique or the best fit for a particular campus,” Potts said.
  • Assessment data are lacking. “We’re told that this or that program works, but see little in the way of assessment data to prove it,” Potts noted.
  • Graduating students should be a campus’ top priority. “Surprisingly, some institutions do not yet consider retention and graduation a clear priority, even though the regents do,” he said. “Graduating our students is the number-one job for us all.”
  • USG campuses are not involving faculty deeply enough in retention and graduation issues. “Faculty need to own these issues,” Potts said.
  • Retention and graduation rates are not about money. “I want to see our institutions boost retention and graduation rates no matter how much or how little they have,” Potts said. “Take resources away from other areas in order to boost student success – this is our very best investment.”
  • Leadership is key. “We want to see presidents out in front of retention and graduation issues, understanding their campus problems and designing the solutions,” he said.
  • Don’t just blame students. “Some students are not as prepared for college as they should be,” Potts conceded. “While this plays into the graduation-rate conundrum, my feeling is that no matter how our students come to us, we need to do whatever we can to ensure their success.”
  • The entire campus must own student success as a goal. “A plan for boosting graduation and retention is not a bunch of best practices,” Potts said. “It is a thoughtful, comprehensive document that analyzes the problem and provides a roadmap. The entire campus has to feel confident about the plan, advocate for it, and work on it.”

In closing, Potts implored USG presidents and provosts to “pull out all the stops. Make your campus culture one of student success, and I promise that you will be rewarded for it – by me, by this board, by your parents, by your stakeholders. And the greatest rewards will be walking across your stage at commencement. We need your leadership, your ideas, and most of all, your passion on behalf of the precious 300,000-plus young people under our care.”

Posted by Jason Steele
Published in: Board of Regents, Presidents

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