This year, prior to the fall semester, I sent a message to faculty regarding our University goals for student success. Of course, providing an exceptional learning and living experience is the responsibility of everyone on campus, and I will be commenting on the important roles that we all have in attaining our goals. This is the faculty message sent for Fall 2014:
Welcome to Fall Semester 2014! I hope that this time of year is as exciting for you as it has always been for me. I enjoy seeing new students arrive on campus, ready for this big step in education and personal growth. As we are opening the new academic year, I wanted to share a few thoughts.
As you know, student success at NC State is goal one of our strategic plan. Success can be measured in any number of ways. Official measures used in the media and government includes our one-year retention rate for first year, first time freshmen and our 6-year graduation rate. We do very well on retention, with a first year rate in excess of 93% for the fall 2012 cohort which compares very favorably with our peer institutions. However, once our students return for the second year, that persistence drops off, and our 6-year graduation rate is about 74%. That is low compared with our overall peer group, which has an average 6-year graduation rate of 77%. And, compared with some our aspirational peers, we are very low indeed. For example, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, and UC-Davis have 6-year rates of 79, 80, 82, and 86% respectively. Our retention is as good as at those institutions, but we lose far more rising juniors and seniors than they do. And our students are certainly as capable as theirs are!
There are a number of reasons for this attrition: financial concerns, family issues, lack of perceived fit, problems moving into majors internally, or not having the desired major to transfer into. About 18% of a given cohort leave in good academic standing, while only about 5-6% leave on probation or suspension.
Our goal is to move our retention rate to 94% or better, and to achieve a 6-year graduation rate of at least 80%. However, student success is more than just reaching these numerical goals. Our own strategic plan identifies that we want students to experience more high-impact educational activities that enhances their learning, exposes them to a wide variety of intellectual experiences, and prepares them for their futures. These include first-year seminars and experiences, common learning experiences and learning communities, participation in Learning and Living Villages in our residence halls, study abroad and other diversity and global activities, research and creative work with faculty, internships, writing intensive courses, collaborative assignments and projects and integrative capstone courses and projects. We offer opportunities in most of these areas already, and our plans are to make more opportunities available in the next few years. We want as many students as possible to take advantage of all that a great research university has to offer.
A key to our students persisting and graduating is engagement with the university in many ways. As is suggested by the activities listed above, engagement with faculty, in and out of the classroom, is very important. Significant interaction with one or more faculty member can change the path for a student. Messages from faculty about the importance of their education and time at NC State can make a difference. Encourage your students to take advantage of the opportunities for enhancing their learning.
Given our institutional goals, I ask that you think about how you can provide the message that your students’ success is important, particularly in those first and second year courses. Here are some things you might want to consider discussing with your students during this first week of classes.
- Time Commitment: How much time do you expect students to spend preparing outside of your formal class time? In a recent NC State survey (2011 National Survey of Student Engagement), 52% of first year students and 55% of seniors reported studying 15 hours or less per week. Are we challenging our students enough? Discuss what it takes to be successful in your class to achieve mastery.
- Attendance: Do you stress attendance? Attendance is a very strong indicator of student academic success. Even if you do not require attendance, discuss the importance of attendance to success in your class. Emphasize the fact that there are activities during class that are in addition to the outside readings and assignments and that missing these will negatively impact their learning, and therefore, their grades. Of course, we must also make sure that our class time does indeed offer up challenges, content and activities beyond what can be gotten from the text or someone else’s notes!
- Class Participation: How would you like for your students to participate in your class? Can you give students suggestions for preparing for class that will make class time more effective? Are there short activities you can add to your class to enhance the engagement of students with the material? Can you consider a hybrid model that focuses class time on active learning? Consider contacting the Office of Faculty Development for ideas that you can apply to your course (http://ofd.ncsu.edu/teaching-learning/), or take a look at the Course Planning resources available from DELTA (http://delta.ncsu.edu/course-planning/).
- Academic Support: Let students know about support outside of class. Talk about your office hours, and any tutoring or other support available in your department or college. You may also want to refer students to the University Tutorial Center (http://tutorial.ncsu.edu) where we offer assistance in a variety of gateway science, writing, and language courses.
If you have students who are missing class or performing poorly on homework or tests, especially during the first two to three weeks of the semester, please consider submitting an Academic Progress Report. The Academic Progress Reporting system is located in the MyPACK Portal under the Faculty Center and in the Advising Dashboard. Using this system you can communicate information about course performance to the student and their advisor. For information on how to access the system, please go to http://www.ncsu.edu/registrar/guides/facstaff/progressreport.html. Early notification and intervention is a proven strategy for improving student outcomes. Of course, it is difficult to monitor progress for a student in the absence of regular evaluation. I encourage you to consider multiple ways to monitor student learning in your class – early and often is better than a single mid-term and final. And if you have a student who you believe is exhibiting concerning behavior in your class, please refer that student to our Behavioral Case Manager at http://studentsofconcern.ncsu.edu/. We can provide a variety of services to students who are experiencing distress, allowing them to be successful members of our academic community.
Finally interaction with you, the faculty, is important. Stress office hours, review sessions, and other opportunities to talk with students. Tell them why your discipline is exciting to you, why what they are studying is important. Discuss your research; perhaps encouraging students to consider undergraduate research opportunities in your field. Talk about the value of internships, study abroad, service learning, clubs and organizations and other activities in your department or college that tie the student back to the major in concrete ways.
I wish you all the best this coming year. And, I thank you for your part in helping our students find their way to success in their classes, to the discovery of a rich variety of intellectual opportunities, and to leaving the University with a broad education that will prepare them for a lifetime of learning and productivity in their chosen career paths. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss student success issues or to learn more about the Division of Academic and Student Affairs.
All the best,
Vice Chancellor and Dean
Professor of Soil Science