Basic skills, self-confidence are building blocks for student success

Dr. Mary A. Papazian

I am reminded daily that students are the reason we all are here at San Jose State. Their energy, promise, and commitment to creating a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities inspires me in the work we do together at the university. So, naturally, our student success efforts are and will remain a priority for the university’s leadership, faculty and staff. This is particularly true with our 2019 incoming freshmen, the class that will determine our success with three of the six metrics for CSU Graduation Initiative 2025.

One of the most exciting achievements we have seen recently in student success took place over the past several months, and it involves how SJSU responded to the CSU’s Executive Order 1110, the directive on academic preparation and placement into first year courses.

EO 1110 essentially directed all CSU campuses to end their remedial courses immediately, so for us that meant completely re-vamping our first-year mathematics and writing courses. This was a very big challenge, but one that we embraced since we knew there had to be a better way to prepare all of our incoming freshmen for college-level math and writing.

Every student in the CSU system who hopes to graduate, of course, must complete “basic skills” classes in these two areas. But previously, we had students who would finish their first year with up to 20 non-college level remedial course units, and only 5 or 10 units of college-level courses! Obviously, they were not progressing toward graduation with this model, and this simply was not the way we want their academic careers to unfold.

So when we received the directive from the Chancellor’s office just over two years ago, we understood that successful implementation would result in positive change on many levels. But the challenge was that we had to make these changes by Fall 2018. Not much time, to say the least! By definition, all of this required adjustments to our course catalog, class schedules, advisor practices, publications, assessment, faculty development, and even changes in PeopleSoft.

Most important were changes in how we would support these incoming students to ensure that they quickly were able to develop the basic skills they were lacking, skills that would enable them to be on track for the rest of their academic journeys. One of our goals for the 2018-2019 academic year was for every freshman successfully to complete their required writing and math courses before end of their freshman year. We know this is a success marker for them, one that will help them in achieving their academic goals.

So how did we respond to the challenge?

Like San Jose State Spartans!

First, with writing: This past academic year, 91 percent of incoming freshman successfully completed their freshman writing course. 91 percent! The previous year was only 72 percent. We have improved by leaps and bounds in developing the writing skills of our incoming students to a level where they can continue on to their upper-division courses with the confidence and know-how that they need to be successful.

Now, I realize this is not a competition, but if it is possible I would say our improvements in math have been even more remarkable than writing.

The results are in. The year before these changes, just 54 percent of our incoming freshmen were able to complete their math requirement by the end of the academic year. This year, 82 percent of them did! That is just an incredible advancement in student achievement and sets those students up for future success in a way that even they might not have thought possible.

In all, 78 percent of our freshmen completed both their math and writing requirements.

So at SJSU, we can pay a fond farewell to remedial coursework!

I cannot tell you how proud I am of this development and the collective effort that made it happen. So how did it happen?

There were many individuals and offices around our campus that played key roles.

First and probably foremost were members of the faculty in the English and Math departments and the other departments on campus that teach these essential skills courses. They put so much thought and effort into redesigning their courses.

Our Academic Preparation Programs team led this effort and provided the vision and project management to ensure that the right people were talking to each other in this major cross-divisional effort.

The Peer Connections team worked effectively to develop student mentors and tutors.

Our advisors in all of our colleges and the staff in Enrollment Management ensured that students and parents had the correct information to understand the new curricula and then placed close to four thousand students in the courses that best met their academic needs.

There was support from Institutional Effectiveness & Analytics to help assess how well the changes were working.

Our Information Technology team had to implement sweeping changes in PeopleSoft.

There was the Center for Faculty Development, the Provost’s officeAcademic Scheduling, and so many others.

And last but certainly not least, I must acknowledge the members of SJSU’s EO-1110 implementation team. These are the folks who met weekly throughout the year, rolled up their sleeves, sorted out various complexities, and did the really hard work not only to get this done, but to get it done the right way, a way that would help our students succeed.

These individuals teamed up on a tremendous achievement because they care about our students and want to do all they can to help them to be successful.

This is what Spartan Pride is all about. The faculty and staff-members are models to other CSU campuses and to other educators within our region, our state and throughout the country.

Let me end with an expression of tremendous pride in our students, who jumped into the challenge ahead as they navigated their transition to college and did the hard work that enabled them to succeed in these revamped courses.

To all of you, I say “Thank you!” I could not be more proud to serve as your president, and I look forward to many more student success achievements at SJSU in the coming year.

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