As we end another academic year, I am pleased to share the progress we have made on one of our top priorities – student success. This spring, Vice President for Student Affairs Reggie Blaylock and I updated SJSU’s Four Pillars of Student Success: College Readiness, Advising, Student Engagement and Clearing Bottlenecks, a plan informed by many campus stakeholders who helped us to identify initiatives that will move us toward improving graduation rates, retention, student experience, and preparing our graduates to pursue advanced degrees or to thrive in their careers.
Our 2016 graduation rates, reported in the fall, show that we are steadily moving toward our 2025 graduation goals. We improved our first-time freshmen graduation rate from 10 percent to 14 percent; our six-year graduation rates improved from 57 percent to 62 percent; and we decreased the achievement gap between our underrepresented minority students and their peers from 17 percent to 11 percent.
Other indicators show that we continue to make progress in shortening the time to degree for students. For spring 2017, 36 percent of our undergraduate students enrolled in 15 units or more, up from 25 percent in fall 2015. We have offered additional courses to clear bottlenecks and hired more advisors while increasing awareness that students need to complete 15 units each semester to stay on track to graduate on time. The Office of Student and Faculty Success launched their #FinishinFour and #TakeTwo campaigns during orientation sessions last summer and worked hard to inform students that to graduate in four years for first-time freshmen or two years for transfer students, they need to take 15 units a semester. These communication efforts doubled the number of first-time students taking 15 units. Our efforts are showing returns and undergraduate average unit load is already trending upward.
We still have much work ahead to meet the ambitious goals of eliminating our achievement gap entirely and graduating 35 percent of our first-time freshmen in four years by 2025. I have confidence that as we continue many of the initiatives launched this year, we will meet these goals (see monthly updates online).
In addition to supporting students once they enroll, we are also looking at ways to partner with K-12 and community colleges to prepare students for university coursework. Reggie and I co-hosted two student success summits with Assemblymembers Evan Low and Ash Kalra that brought together partners from community colleges, K-12 and nonprofits to discuss the ways we can work together to ensure students are prepared for college-level math and English when they arrive at CSU campuses. We have created working groups around three key areas in which SJSU faculty, staff and administrators will partner with local high schools: summer initiatives for high school students; teacher professional development; and college readiness presentations for school boards. I look forward to reporting more in the fall after we launch pilot programs in each area.
While we are measuring much of our progress in numbers, students’ personal stories are also marks of our success. I am pleased to share with you some of the ways our Four Pillars plan is supporting students – from ITS’s internship for students who are using predictive analytics to improve advising processes to the African-American Student Success Task Force’s alternative spring break and Chicanx/Latinx posole study breaks to the record number of students who were recognized for high achievement at this year’s Honors Convocation on April 28 – these student experiences are the reasons we remain dedicated to our plan.
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.
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 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.