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SU a ‘standout’ in retention of students, according to major national study
SU a ‘standout’ in retention of students, according to major national studyMarch 11, 2005Patrick Farrellpmfarrel@syr.edu
School of Education professor cited as ‘key researcher’ in the field
Syracuse University is one of a handful of universities to be profiled in a pair of recent reports from leading education research group Education Trust. The reports focus on the best practices of higher-education institutions with outstanding retention and graduation rates, particularly for minority and lower-income students.
In “One Step From the Finish Line”, SU is cited as a “standout” institution, unique for maintaining a successful sports program while increasing its overall six-year graduation rate for six consecutive years. The report credits SU administrators with launching a number of successful initiatives, including reducing class size in all introductory-level classes and researching the ways students spend time outside of class.
The report also recognizes the University’s efforts to put teaching and learning front and center by including student evaluations, observations and peer assessments of teaching in the third-year review of tenure-track faculty. “The Syracuse model places great value on professors being accomplished researchers and teachers,” says Vice Chancellor and Provost Deborah A. Freund. “People who come here recognize that those two roles aren’t mutually exclusive.” Freund adds that emphasizing quality of teaching as part of tenure evaluation sends a forceful message that teaching is paramount at SU.
Education Trust, an independent, Washington, D.C.-based group, is dedicated to making schools and colleges more responsive to their students’s needs.
It does this by promoting the importance of high academic achievement of all students at all levels and is committed to closing the achievement gaps that separate low-income students and students of color from other segments of the population.
The trust evaluated the institutions highlighted in its reports using a tool called College Results Online, which is online at http://www.collegeresults.org . The tool uses data collected by U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics from a series of surveys, including the Graduation Rate Survey (GRS).
College Results Online allows users to select any four-year public or private nonprofit college or university in the country and compare its graduation rates to those of similar institutions, with options for sorting by students’ race, ethnicity and gender-information that only recently became available to the public. This new information reveals telling gaps in graduation rates between white students and students of color at most colleges and universities.
“One Step from the Finish Line: Higher College-Graduation Rates are Within Our Reach”, the first report to result from Ed Trust’s new research, explains how to use College Results Online and highlights the strategies of some successful colleges and universities. The second report, “Choosing to Improve: Voices from Colleges and Universities with Better Graduation Rates,” offers a more detailed examination of these schools and outlines growing research on the importance of institutions’ policies-such as efforts to keep new students engaged and use of data to uncover obstacles to degree completion. The reports are free at http://www2.edtrust.org/edtrust.
Vincent Tinto, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the higher education program in the School of Education, is cited by Ed Trust as a key researchers in the field. Tinto has observed that, although retention programs abound on many campuses, most institutions have not taken student retention seriously-attempts to improve become only a laundry list of dutifully adopted “best practices,” out of sync with institutions’ missions and students.
Such efforts “have done little to change the essential character of college, little to alter the prevailing character of student educational experience, and therefore little to address the deeper roots of student attrition,” says Tinto. “As a result, most efforts to enhance student retention, though successful to some degree, have had more limited impact than they could or should.”
The Education Trust analysis finds that graduation rates overall are much worse for minority students, and that students attending the same colleges may experience very different graduation prospects. The data also reveal that, throughout the country, there are colleges and universities that have steadily increased overall graduation rates, that graduate minority students at nearly the same rates as white students and that consistently outperform similar schools.
Education Trust highlights research done by SU’s Center for Retention Studies and the Center for the Support of Teaching and Learning (CSTL), which dispels many misconceptions about why students leave. According to Barbara Yonai, director of CSTL, “many believed that financial need was an issue, but we discovered that that alone is not why students leave.” For example, Yonai and her colleagues have found that a significant number of students leave in the fourth year, only a few credits short of graduation, because they are unable to get their transcripts to reflect transfer credits or to clear up incomplete grades. By helping students cut through such red-tape problems, the University has improved its graduation rates. SU has also minimized the critical first-year dropout rate by focusing extra resources on new students, and has instituted a variety of programs through the Division of Student Support and Retention, Student Affairs and other areas to meet student needs.
“For far too long, we have blamed low graduation rates only on the students. This sort of thinking has led us to believe that there is nothing that colleges and universities could do to help more students graduate,” says Kevin Carey, director of policy research at the Education Trust. “This thinking is dead wrong,” he says. “As College Results Online shows us, some schools are doing a whole lot better than other, similar schools in serving their students.”