Student success – it’s everyone’s job

It’s a lofty goal. Everyone at the University of Missouri–St. Louis will share responsibility for the educational success of its students. Bolstered by a top-to-bottom initiative led by Chancellor Tom George,  the concerted effort will raise the university’s retention and graduation rates.

In recent letters to all faculty and staff, George has borrowed a few pages from customer service bibles familiar to most businesses. He calls for everyone to maintain a friendly, helpful learning environment and pay close attention to student learning.

George congratulated faculty and staff for a job well done, then asked for a concerted effort toward student success.

“This year we have committed as a campus to address an area in which the university’s reputation is not as good as it should be – our undergraduate students’ graduation rate,” he stated in the letters. He calls for “changing behaviors, processes and structures” to achieve better outcomes.

UMSL has combined its campuswide initiative with Access to Success, a national program that looks to boost retention and graduation rates of minority students. The A2S Initiative is sponsored by Education Trust and the National Association of System Heads. Gary Forsee, president of the University of Missouri System, is one of 24 leaders of large public state universities participating in A2S.

UMSL got off to a head start last spring by being ranked number one among public research institutions for closing its graduation rate gap for minority students in a study conducted by the NASH organization. As part of that study, education leaders agreed to pursue aggressive goals for improving student success.

Judith Walker de Felix, associate provost for Academic Affairs and dean of the Graduate School, heads the campus’s A2S initiative.

“Everyone, including the deans, are meeting and talking collaboration more,” she said. “The deans also are being graded on their planning and first steps.”

According to Walker de Felix, studies have shown that students are particularly vulnerable to failure in their first year. The College of Arts and Sciences has jumped ahead with its introduction of a first-year experience program, a combination of courses, programs and support services to better ensure a successful first year inside and outside the classroom.

UMSL’s campuswide initiative fits right into the recent announcement from President Barack Obama to increase the number of college graduates among the nation’s young people from 40 to 60 percent over the next decade. Other developed nations such as Canada, South Korea, Ireland and New Zealand have overtaken the U.S. in this critical achievement. The percentage of U.S. residents ages 25 to 34 years old with at least an associate’s degree has dropped to 12th in the world.

UMSL’s initiative is a timely one.

“High performance as an institution requires that we succeed in every aspect of our mission,” George told faculty. “So I request your close attention especially to student learning. While students bear responsibility for their own learning, as faculty, we have the opportunity to help them succeed.”

He asked for similar cooperation from the staff and spelled out to both groups many ways to help students succeed.

The provost, vice chancellors and deans will report regularly to the chancellor throughout the academic year to ensure the program’s success.



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