I had planned to attend the faculty development conference two weeks ago, but I was not able to do so because of the death of my mother. I know that Provost Wells communicated our collective view that student success must continue to be the paramount goal for our university. Given the significance of this issue, I wanted to share a few of my thoughts, as well.
You, our faculty, play a paramount role in the success of our students. Vincent Tinto, a leader in student success research, reaffirmed this fact when he said, “For the great majority of students, success in college is most directly shaped by their experiences in the classroom.”
At Fall Convocation, I indicated that “student success” means recruiting and enrolling qualified students; retaining a high percentage of those students; graduating those students; and preparing our students to obtain meaningful employment in their field of study and to participate as informed citizens in our democracy. Student success is everyone’s responsibility. In addition to defining student success, we must also be able to measure it and make data-supported decisions.
As you have probably heard, we are implementing a number of initiatives to provide the necessary academic support services to promote student success. Among many other things, we are creating a Student Success Center in the University Center. For this new center to be most effective, we must do more than merely relocate offices; we must actually coordinate and integrate student services.
Academic advising will be an important component of the new Student Success Center. In addition to hiring additional advisors, we will pursue proactive advising. The advising you also provide to students about class selection, graduate school and career opportunities is nevertheless critical, and I ask that you continue to support our students with your good advice. Those conversations help students define their future.
Our colleagues in Student Affairs are developing a “forecast retention model” that will assist us in identifying students who are less likely to persist. This model will allow us to provide targeted support to that population.
In addition to supporting our current students, we must be disciplined and discerning in the students we admit and enroll. We are not retreating from our mission, but we should only admit students who are adequately prepared for college and who have a realistic possibility of graduating. We have a professional and moral obligation to support our students’ success, and this obligation begins during the admission process. As was stated in the Complete College America report, “Access without success is an empty promise.”
This work will require a substantial financial investment. It must also be coordinated to enhance effectiveness and avoid duplication. Finally, it must be regularly and rigorously evaluated.
With the start of classes last week, you have the opportunity to support our students. What I have heard from students, professors, and scholars all over the country is that the following techniques contribute positively and substantially to student success:
Establish high expectations for your students.
Communicate your confidence that your students can meet those expectations.
Give students timely and meaningful feedback.
Engage students to assist you in your research and scholarship. Show them that the pursuit of knowledge is a life-long quest.
Develop experiential learning opportunities, such as case-studies, simulations, role playing, problem-based exercises, service learning, and study abroad.
Be accessible outside of class to respond to questions and demonstrate your support and commitment to their success.
Use technology where appropriate and beneficial to engage students and to enhance your effectiveness.
Throughout the presidential search and transition process, I heard frequently about our faculty’s dedication to teaching and to our students. In fact, people sought me out at every opportunity to reinforce this special attribute. Your dedication to our students is what makes our university strong.
We have so much to be proud of, and we have the potential for even greater success.
Thank you for your continue commitment to our students and to student success. And, thank you for your understanding of my absence from the conference.
Geoffrey S. Mearns
Northern Kentucky University
800 Lucas Administrative Center
Highland Heights, KY 41099