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Today @ Sam

SHSU Among 15 Public Universities Recognized for Student Success, Grad Rates

April 28, 2010
SHSU Media Contacts: Bruce Erickson


Sam Houston State University is among 15 public universities across the nation recently recognized for “outperforming most similar institutions in helping students stay on track and graduate” in a new report from the nonprofit Southern Regional Education Board.

“By highlighting the success of these 15 institutions, we hope that other universities learn from their experiences,” said Cheryl Blanco, SREB vice president and co-author of the report.

"These institutions are helping many students complete college degrees who otherwise often do not graduate. The strategies and programs that they’re using can be adopted by other colleges and universities,” Blanco said.

“Attentive leadership toward student success is important,” Blanco said, “and we found many great CEOs in our study who are dedicated to improving student retention and graduation rates, in addition, at these 15 institutions, the commitment crosses all divisions -- up, down and across the organization chart -- including faculty, staff, students, administrators, even alumni.”

“At some of these institutions, alumni seem to be everywhere, serving as visiting lecturers, sponsors of off-campus activities, community service volunteers, career advisers, job providers and financial contributors.”

Sam Houston State president James F. Gaertner said “SHSU faculty, staff, administrators and alumni committed ourselves to helping students succeed as our top priority, and then we organized and evaluated ourselves accordingly.”

From 2004 to 2006, Sam Houston State’s six-year graduation rate increased dramatically, from 34 percent to 46 percent. One-year retention rates also increased, to 75 percent.

“We created the Student Advising and Mentoring Center, the SAM Center, to serve as a one-stop shop for proactive, sometimes intrusive, advising, mentoring and support services to help students set goals and create plans to achieve them, and we monitored their progress.

We centralized student services in an Enrollment Management division including admissions, career services, financial aid, new student orientation, registrars office and residence life.”

“We try very hard to not allow even one student fall through the cracks here. We take it personally if they do and we want to know why.”

SHSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs David Payne praised SHSU faculty for accepting the additional responsibilities that go along with their usual missions of teaching, research, creative activity and public service.

“Our faculty are dedicated to the quality of their teaching in the classroom, but they are dedicated to the individual student’s success, which means they often go beyond their basic role as teachers to advise and mentor students and refer them to the SAM Center when necessary,” Payne said.

“When we hire a new teacher or staff member, we emphasize that caring for students is a valued and expected part of working here.”

Despite rising college enrollment, improvement in students’ timely completion of bachelor’s degrees in the United States has stalled, according to the report.

Fewer than one-third of degree-seeking, full-time freshmen in public four-year institutions graduate in four years. Most students who enter college as first-time, full-time freshmen take at least six years to earn a bachelor’s degree — and only 55 percent graduate in that time span.

Research shows that students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds or with low SAT/ACT scores are even less likely to complete bachelor’s degrees than their classmates.

The institutions profiled in the SREB report are helping more students complete degrees while also providing a quality education.

These institutions often serve a comparatively high percentage of students from low-income families and students with average-or-below scores on standardized achievement tests. Yet their six-year graduation rates are near the national average for all students.

The study team used The Education Trust’s College Results Online database to select colleges and universities that met these criteria in 2006: a six-year graduation rate of at least 45 percent; a median SAT score no higher than 1050 (ACT average of approximately 25); a proportion of students receiving Pell Grants of at least 25 percent; and Carnegie Classification as a public baccalaureate or master’s institution.

Sam Houston State was the only Texas university profiled in the report. The other 14 institutions included:

California: California State University, Long Beach and California State University, Stanislaus
Illinois: Western Illinois University
Kentucky: Murray State University and Western Kentucky University
Mississippi: Delta State University
Missouri: Northwest Missouri State University
Nebraska: Wayne State College
New Jersey: Montclair State University
New York: Queens College, The City University of New York and The College of Staten Island, The City University of New York
North Carolina: Elizabeth City State University and North Carolina Central University
Pennsylvania: Clarion University of Pennsylvania

The report’s recommendations could help guide state policy decisions to improve degree completion across the nation, Blanco said.
Among the recommendations:

• Make graduation of all students the first priority of the campus, the faculty and staff, and central to the campus culture and to all institutional practices.
• Emphasize students’ degree completion in the selection and evaluation of all campus administrators, especially the president and top academic administrators.
• Charge a team of campus leaders with overseeing efforts to improve student success.
• Help ensure that students are academically ready to succeed in college — in reading, writing and math — and provide them with additional instruction when needed.
• Require that all students choose a major and develop an individual graduation plan by the end of the freshman year.
• Provide targeted programs and services that foster degree completion.
• Closely monitor all students’ progress on their individual graduation plans.
• Develop an institutional master course schedule that covers at least three years.


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