Strategies to improve student access and success at the eight institutions of the University of Louisiana System will become the subject of much attention and action by campus presidents starting this semester.

“We still need to analyze our own policies and practices that prevent some students from accessing higher education and still others from not graduating in a timely manner,” said UL System President Sally Clausen, who called graduation and retention rates “akin to a coach’s win/loss record. It’s something for which we should be held accountable.”

UL System graduation rates presently hover at 36% while first-time freshmen retention is 75% – figures well below national averages. Presidents of the eight UL System campuses signed a compact in 2004 to raise graduation rates by 2012 to meet or exceed nationwide standards.

“We have worked hard to instill a lot of good things on our campuses such as selective admissions, new degree programs and up-to-date classroom buildings and residential facilities,” said Randy Moffett, President of Southeastern Louisiana University and coordinator of the initiative. “But we can’t fail to acknowledge that this is a critical issue about which we need to be proactive. We have a lot of work ahead of us – no one silver bullet exists to provide a cure.”

According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, more Americans must complete college if this country is to retain its worldwide competitive advantage. The Center calls for stronger U.S. colleges and universities to meet the demand for more and better-educated workers.

Improving retention and graduation on our college campuses can dramatically do just that. The Presidents’ Council of the UL System has identified several issues that to date have restricted success in retaining and graduating students. Student preparation in critical content areas, such as English and mathematics, heads the list.

Horace Judson, President of Grambling State University, provided an example of the significance of this particular issue. “Mathematics is a key subject of difficulty for students, especially for those who are under prepared for college. At any one time, one million students are enrolled in college algebra across the nation. Of these students, 50% withdraw or fail. Obviously, failure to pass mathematics inhibits one’s ability to progress as it is a necessary foundation throughout one’s college career.”

The Presidents have also identified four other factors that can be influenced – to varying degrees – at the campus level in their quest to improve retention and graduation. They include the mix of traditional/non-traditional students, the quality of advising and its impact on student career goals, financial aid strategies, and faculty/staff diversity.

“Increasing ACT scores of minority students and their overall academic success make it all the more critical that there be a greater presence of minorities in the teaching ranks and among the administrative staff. This means we must be more aggressive in attracting and developing minority faculty and staff,” said Steve Hulbert, President of Nicholls State University.

“I commend our campus presidents for aggressively attacking retention and graduation strategies,” said Aron Walker, this year’s Board of Supervisors student representative and Southeastern SGA President. “I have discussed the importance of these matters with my SGA peers across the System and we’re ready to support our institutions in their actions.”

Presidents have agreed to resume joint discussions later this semester after considerable review at the campus level. “We now need to capture what we’re doing well, in addition to what we should be doing, in order to generate retention and graduation improvements at our individual institutions,” said Moffett. “Then we need to compile these actions for the entire System and use this as a basis for our next meeting.”

Mike Woods, longtime UL System Board member, participated in the inaugural meeting and was excited about the group’s direction. “I know that, given the collective experience, wisdom, and energy of our Presidents, they’ll make great strides in addressing these issues. This bodes well for our students.”


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Brad O’Hara