Direct Connection to Policy Area 4 of The Illinois Commitment
Improving Program Retention through Research
Governors State University
What issue or need is addressed by the effective practice?
The six-year graduation rates for Governors State University’s degree-seeking students hover around 60% in the aggregate for both undergraduates and graduate students, with some program-level variations above and below that overall rate. Given the character of the student pool at the university, composed overwhelmingly of working adults who pursue their degrees on a part-time basis, those graduation rates are quite respectable. There is, however, room for improvement. We needed to encourage programs to examine their completion-related structures and processes in light of local “best practices” identified by empirical research, and to implement changes in light of those research results.
Description of the effective practice:
Undergraduate degree-completion rates as calculated and analyzed in most media are based on the academic progress of members of a population of first-time, full-time undergraduates who begin a degree program at a specific point in time – typically a given fall term or semester. Degree-completion rates of this type have no meaning at Governors State University, because (a) most students pursue their degrees on a part-time basis and (b) as an upper-division university, we enroll no freshmen or sophomores at the undergraduate level. We track graduation rates on a regular basis among our degree-seeking students in both graduate and undergraduate programs. In the aggregate, the cohort graduation rate for undergraduates after six years of study is approximately 61%, while for graduate students it is approximately 58%. Among both groups, rates for students in specific programs vary about these overall averages.
We consider these six-year cohort graduation rates respectable, but not acceptable. We wanted to engage the academic programs in assessing these outcomes and in seeking ways to improve them, based on empirical research on the program-level characteristics, facilities and services most significantly associated with higher (as opposed to lower) cohort completion rates.
Toward that end, the Provost empanelled a Committee on Retention and Graduation early in the 2004-05 academic year and charged that group to identify on an empirical basis the program-level “best practices” that led to higher student cohort graduation rates. After validating the graduation rates noted above, the Committee then scheduled interviews with every department and division chair at the university and with every program director to gather data on the procedures, practices and facilities through which faculty and staff engaged with students in their respective degree programs. After completing the interviews, the Committee quantified the interview responses, added them to a data file on the programs’ retention and graduation rates, and applied a variety of statistical analytic techniques to determine the program-level characteristics most significantly and consistently associated with higher program graduation rates.
Many of the interventions most closely associated with higher program-level graduation rates, as identified by the Committee’s analyses, are relatively inexpensive to implement and operate. The provision of student mailboxes in or near the departmental office is one example. Having an annual recognition/awards ceremony for high-performing students is another. Intrusive advising – a practice in which faculty advisors actively seek out program students for appointments, rather than waiting more passively for students to initiate the advising sessions – is a third example. Requiring attendance at a program-level orientation for all new students early in the fall trimester is a fourth. All in all, eleven practices or facilities were identified as the strongest differentiators of high-graduation from low-graduation programs.
At the end of the academic year, the final results of the Committee’s work were disseminated in both printed and presentational form to the Dean’s Council, the Administrative Group and the President’s Cabinet. For 2005-06, the President and the Provost plan to mandate a round of program-level self-assessments focused on the results produced by the Committee on Retention and Graduation, leading to changes in practices and facilities wherever appropriate.
How does this practice achieve sustainability?
As noted in the examples described above, the financial investments required to implement many of the characteristics of high-retention/graduation programs are not especially substantial. More critical in this regard is the mobilization of faculty and staff attention to the issue and to the empirical research results that speak to it. Sustainability of the innovation depends heavily on our ability to mobilize that attention
What are the results/measurable outcomes?
The ultimate measurable outcome for this innovation is an observed increase in the cohort graduation rates of our programs, especially those identified by the Committee on Retention and Graduation during 2004-05 as having relatively low-graduation rates. Given the part-time status of most GSU students, this result will take some time to emerge. We will nonetheless continue to monitor progress toward it on a regular basis, and the Committee on Retention and Graduation will continue to search for the empirical correlates of program-level success.
Name: Jeff Slovak – Director, Budget / Financial Planning / IR
Phone: (708) 534-4981
Effective practices are submitted to the Illinois Board of Higher Education
as a component of the annual institutional performance report.
Additional effective practices may be found in the annually published compendium and a searchable database.
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