November 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update – Making Progress on Student Success

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this month, I am especially grateful for the dedication of San Jose State University staff, faculty, and administrators to our students and their success. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs collaboratively launched the Four Pillars of Student Success plan last year. Reggie and I are very encouraged by how many of you have immersed yourself in the plan and are engaged in supporting our students through one or more of the Pillars’ initiatives.

I am happy to share that we have already made progress in increasing our graduation rates. Preliminary data released last month shows that our four-year graduation rate is now at 14 percent, up from 10 percent a year ago. Our six-year graduation rate is up as well, 62 percent this year as compared to 57 percent in 2015. It is especially encouraging that we are moving closer toward eliminating the graduation gap between our underrepresented minority students and their non-URM peers. This year we have narrowed the gap significantly from 17 percent in 2015 to 11 percent this year.

We still have a long way to go to reach our 2025 graduation goals:

  • 71 percent first-time incoming student six-year graduation rate
  • 35 percent first-time incoming student four-year graduation rate
  • 80 percent transfer student four-year graduation rate
  • 36 percent transfer student two-year graduation rate
  • 0 percent gap for URM students and Pell-eligible students and their peers

We are pleased with the progress we are making on graduation rates, but student success is about much more than just these numbers. Our work is integral to providing students with the valuable skills they need to thrive in Silicon Valley and beyond in many sectors including in high-tech and business firms; government and public service; arts, literature and entertainment; health professions; education and many other fields and industries. We also committed to creating an informed citizenry that will be engaged in our community, on local and global scales. The resources in our Four Pillars Plan benefit first-time students as well as transfer, mid-career, international, graduate and certificate students through enhanced support services and expanded opportunities for meaningful engagement.

By working together and taking a holistic approach to serving students, we will be able to achieve our ambitious goals. This effort will be aided by broad collaboration across campus between all divisions and a multi-faceted approach to supporting our students. We are engaged in a variety of initiatives, from additional staff and technological solutions that support advising to redesigning classes to enhance student engagement to ensuring our students are free from food insecurity so that they can concentrate on classes.

I am thankful for all of you who play a role in supporting our students, and I look forward to continuing our work together. You are essential to making our Four Pillars plan successful.

Faculty Matter Tip #3: Make Good Use of the First Day of Class

Allow students to engage in pairs or small groups on the first day of class.

Allow students to engage in pairs or small groups on the first day of class.

Faculty Matter Teaching Tip #3 – Making Good Use of the First Day of Class

You will likely need to devote time to various administrative tasks on the first day.  You may also want to dive right in and begin covering course content. But don’t miss out on this important opportunity to begin to create community and to engage students. Consider also devoting some time to “ice-breakers” and to other stage-setting activities.

  • Greet students as they walk in.  Arrive at your classroom early, stand at the door, and welcome students as they enter.
  • Have students interview each other, in pairs or small groups of 3-4. Sample questions: Name, major, where they are from, something that would surprise you about them, something they are looking forward to this year, something they are apprehensive about.
  • Create a list of class rules and expectations.  Start by listing your “must haves” – expectations about cell phones and computers in class, tardiness, civility, how you want to be addressed, how students should approach you if they have concerns, etc.. Invite students to talk in pairs or small groups, and suggest other items for the list.  You may be surprised by how many students have strong feelings about the importance of maintaining a respectful learning environment!  Devote a few minutes to a whole group conversation.  This way, if problems arise later, you can refer students to the rules everyone agreed upon.
  • Identify students’ starting points.  Have students complete a no-points quiz, where they indicate their level of familiarity with a dozen or so foundational concepts for the class.  For example:
    • Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development:
      • I’ve never heard of it

      • It sounds familiar, but I don’t quite remember what it is.

      • I sort of know it.

      • I know it well and could explain it to someone else.

This will allow you to get a sense of where students have a firm grasp of material and where they will need refreshers.

To get a better sense of the range of their interests, consider adding two additional questions:

  • What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took in your major?
  • What is one of the most interesting things you remember from a prior course you took outside of your major?
  • Have students fill out a personal profile.  In addition to basic information (name, preferred way to be addresses, best way to contact, major/minor), you may want to ask them about other commitments this semester (academic load, work, family responsibilities, community responsibilities, etc..), learning styles or needs, and anything else they would like to share with you, to help you help them be successful.
  • Share something about yourself. Convey your enthusiasm for teaching and for the subject matter.  Consider telling students a bit about your professional background. Don’t feel compelled to share details about your personal life.

Faculty Matter Tip #2: Read Through the Syllabus You Have Prepared

Faculty Matter Tips #2 – Read through the syllabus you have prepared.

Make sure you can answer the following questions in the affirmative if you were a student in this class, reading this syllabus,

  • Would you be able to put together a clear picture of what the class was about?
  • Would you have a sense of what your instructor expected you to learn from it?
  • Would it be clear to you what, specifically, you were going to be asked to do or produce, and when?
  • Would you be able to figure out where you could turn if you encountered any difficulties along the way?

For a “second pair of eyes,” and a different perspective, consider having a department colleague or a former student read through your syllabus as well.

Faculty Matter Tip #1: Reach Out to Your Students BEFORE the First Day of Class

Students celebrate at Admitted Spartans Day by holding up banners with their intended graduation year.

Students celebrate at Admitted Spartans Day by holding up banners with their intended graduation year.

The start of the new academic year is a special time – for students and faculty alike – full of hope and promise and excitement mixed with a little apprehension and nervousness. For the 2015-16 academic year, Stacy Gleixner, interim AVP for Student Academic Success, and Amy Strage, AVP for Faculty Development and director of the Center for Faculty Development, will be initiating an ongoing email series that will feature regular “Faculty Matter” teaching tips.  As part of SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success, the pair is hoping to provide proven concrete suggestions of relatively easy-to-implement activities that will help faculty engage students and support their success. Faculty may feel free to adopt these as is, or to modify them to better suit needs or context in each course. These tips will be archived on the Provost’s Academic Spotlight blog under the category “Faculty Matter”. Faculty are encouraged to use the comment tool to share their own suggestions and tips.

Faculty Matter Tip #1 – Reach out to your students BEFORE the first day of class.

  • Send your students a brief email introducing yourself, conveying your enthusiasm about the course and about meeting them. You can send your message through your class roster on MySJSU or through Canvas.
  • Consider giving them a very simple assignment – a question to think about, an artifact to bring to class, something related to the course content that will “prime the pump” for whatever topic(s) you want to discuss at the first class meeting.
  • Remember to follow up on what you asked them to do: have them share their answers/what they brought.  If the class is large, students can share in small groups, with a few volunteers reporting out to the entire class.

May 2016 Newsletter: Provost Update – Commencement Celebrates Student Success

2015 graduates enter Spartan Stadium for Commencement.

2015 graduates enter Spartan Stadium for Commencement.
Photo by David Schmitz

As provost, I am inspired by the pride I see in the eyes of our graduates as they don their caps and gowns each May. This month, we celebrate the dedication of our students, having attained their degrees with support from family, friends and our campus community. We will honor 9,861 undergraduate and graduate students at Commencement on May 28. When they leave SJSU, they will be well prepared to become leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond while remaining an important part of the Spartan community as alumni.

While we celebrate so many Spartans obtaining their degrees, I am especially pleased that our campus ends the year with a comprehensive plan to support future graduates. SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks is available online.

For the past year, I have worked closely with Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock to develop this plan. We have collaborated and gathered information from faculty, staff, students and other experts to develop a data-driven campus-wide student success strategy with one goal: to significantly increase our retention and graduation rates for all students while improving the quality of their educational experience. Our 57 percent six-year and 10 percent four-year graduation rates, and a double-digit underrepresented minority student graduation rate gap are not acceptable. We owe it to our students, their families, taxpayers, employers and our community to improve.

As we end the semester, I am pleased to highlight examples from each of our four pillars: an outreach program for middle and high school students; a scholarship program that provides mentors to graduate students; events that highlight student research, scholarship and creative activity (RSCA); advising centers embedded in each college; and a grant that is redesigning the way we teach lower-division STEM classes.

I wish you all a wonderful summer and I look forward to working with you to enhance the success of every San Jose State student.