Nov 7th, 2016 @ 9:40 pm | Author: Tisa Mason, Ed.D, CAE
I just returned from the annual meeting for presidents of state colleges and universities renewed and reaffirmed in the mission, vision, and effectiveness of VCSU. Our team is making great progress on many important initiatives. One area in which we’re progressing is student persistence. Over the last 5 years VCSU has improved its student retention by more than 17 percentage points. This unusually rapid rate of improvement has put us in a position on par with the national average.
But VCSU is not about being average. We aim higher and work harder—especially when it comes to our students. Most important, we recognize that behind every statistic is a student, a real person whom we have an obligation to guide and encourage. And sure, not every student who leaves VCSU early is unsuccessful. Some may be enrolled in our pre-engineering program specifically designed for their transfer to UND or NDSU. Others may attend VCSU to complete general education requirements as a cost-saving strategy and then transfer to more expensive institutions with different majors. But there are indeed students who are not graduating, and we need to find more effective ways to help them succeed. That is why we continue to evaluate and refine current practices and adopt new strategies. I am so grateful for the time and energy our faculty and staff devote to getting better at supporting our students.
One aspect I especially admire about VCSU is that we have the courage to be introspective and innovative. One of my conference sessions called on universities to think deeply and differentiate between where students fail and where the university fails students—to adopt an “It’s On Us” posture rather than simply blaming students for not putting forth the effort to succeed. Researcher Robert Pace has long demonstrated that what an institution does can profoundly shape student effort and positively impact success. And even newer research by Robert Putnam indicates that often students who are not as well prepared for college do not lack in intelligence but rather in savvy. Our outreach and support of students is more critical than we sometimes realize.
I was most intrigued by new research from Gallup indicating that hope is critical to college student success. This make sense when you think about it. Ever tried to lose weight and get negative feedback from the scale? Motivated to eat more fruits and vegetables? Feel like weighing in the next day? Discouragement steals hope. Encouragement fuels hope, which results in success. I know from my experience at the Wellness Center that when I work with my trainer—who gives me information, shows me what to do, monitors my progress, and continues to encourage me—I am hopeful, focused, excited, and successful. Each week I get stronger and can do more. My trainer doesn’t remind me of what I can’t do, but instead reinforces the progress I have made and tells me how much closer I am to accomplishing my fitness goals.
I left the conference reminded how important it is to tell our students everyday how great they are, to encourage their hopes and dreams, to instill in them the importance of perseverance—of refusing to accept failure—and to love them to success. After all, this is how we create world-class athletes and how we should be creating world-class students. And the best news is that this quality of hopefulness and student support is a characteristic already alive and well at VCSU. That makes it a great day to be a Viking!