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point average required for admission to those schools. “Some
of themwanted to be a nurse all their lives,” said Geissler, “and
they usually come to us pretty devastated.”
The pressure to increase retention and graduation numbers
prompts an assortment of debates. Setting quotas for both,
which some officials predict will happen in the North Carolina
system, appeals to education experts like Haycock ofThe
Education Trust. “It’s absolutely a good idea,” she said. “While
it would have been hard years ago to say what’s a reasonable
target for institutions, it doesn’t seem to be now. That is, if you
look at an institution compared to institutions just like it, and
if you look at what the top-performing institutions in that
category are doing as a starting place, a goal that has a campus
seeking to stretch out to the sort of best-in-class makes a lot of
“Hopefully,” she added, “that will lead to something better
than what we have, which is four in ten graduating after four
years. That’s just crazy.”
But measuring requires reliable numbers. Right now, no
one is able, with any confidence, to track students who move
between institutions, especially if they move to another state.
The U.S. Department of Education and some private
organizations, includingThe Education Trust, support the
creation of a national database that would track students’
progress from admission to graduation, no matter howmany
institutions they attended.
The National Association of Independent Colleges
and Universities vigorously opposes such a database as an
invasion of privacy, and produced a poll last summer that
found that 62 percent of the American people are similarly
opposed. Haycock called that “the most evil poll,” and added,
“I’mworried, because if you want people to take graduation
seriously, you have to have good data.”
Measuring graduation rates also leads to a debate over
what constitutes a realistic timeframe, and whether programs
support.” A new director
was hired to manage the
Pirate Center, which began
offering full-service tutoring
in 2008.
involvement is critical
to success, according to
Kati Haycock, executive
director of The Education
Trust. “I think it’s fair to
say that in the last couple
of years there has been an
increasing willingness on
the part of leaders in higher
education to assume some
responsibility for improving
student success,” she said,
adding that the prevailing
view still tends to blame student preparation for problems with retention
and degree completion.
Haycock pointed out, however, that comparable institutions—
serving the same types of students, in terms of preparation and
program—do not reliably produce similar results. “You get very
different graduation rates, even for institutions that serve the same
types of students,” she said. “There’s a lot of finger pointing. Educational
institutions at every level have wanted to make this about the students,
or their parents, or preparation. But overwhelming boatloads of
evidence shows that what institutions do matters hugely to student
success. Institutions must recognize the value of their own contribution.”
ECU is a good example. “Their graduation rates have continued to
climb, when you look at them over time,” Haycock said. “In 1999 they
had a six-year rate of 50.2 percent; today it’s 56.4 percent, which is pretty
substantial.” Comparable institutions have graduation rates ranging
from 40 to 70 percent. “Where ECU drew our attention was for its
success with African Americans,” Haycock said. “They had little or no
gap between black and white students, and that is very unusual.”
Haycock does take issue with the idea that it should take six or
more years to complete a degree. “There is a general belief that if we
just lengthen the time to eight or ten years, the graduation data will
look better,” she said. “Frankly, most parents are horrified that colleges
are talking about six years. Most people are not saving enough money
for six years. We are creeping longer and longer, and it’s not good for
students. It is still true that the ones who are most likely to succeed are
the ones who go full-time right out of high school.”
Regardless of whether students need six years or more to earn a
degree, Shelly Myers is convinced that ECU’s outreach effort has yielded
results. “Students are getting better service, in terms of the questions
they have about academics,” she said. “Is that tied to retention? I would
think so. The advisors that I work with here are so connected to their
students. We follow up on grades, and we take note if faculty have a
concern about a student. It’s much more of a personal touch, and I think
that helps them in school. I really believe that we have made a difference
to the students.”
—Todd Sallo
“Evidence shows that
what institutions
do matters hugely
to student success.
Institutions must
recognize the value of
their own contribution.”
—Kati Haycock,
executive director of
The Education Trust
East Carolina’s Academic Enrichment Center, directed by Shelly Myers, assists many
freshmen in making the difficult transition from high school to college.