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Office of the Provost Accreditation

Improving Student Achievement

Improving Student Achievement

Topic: How does WSU regularly monitor and improve academic progress, graduation rates, retention, and student achievement overall?

Challenge/opportunity: WSU’s average first-to-second year student retention rate for first-time, full-time students is currently about 81 percent for 2016-17, an increase following several years of a downward trend. WSU’s average 6-year graduation rate in 2017 was 62.4 percent, a decrease reflecting the downward trend in retention. Among the most recent cohort of students, 37 percent graduated in four years or less, an improvement over the previous year but still reflective of long-term effects from the dip experienced in student retention.

The downward trend in retention and graduation rates corresponds with the large increase in enrollment at WSU starting in 2011, when the incoming class grew from 3,372 to 4,176, serving a significantly larger group of first-generation and low-income students. At the same time, cost of tuition increased significantly. Studies indicate that despite similar or higher aspirations to pursue a college degree, students with these characteristics face three primary barriers to college enrollment: 1) poor academic preparation; 2) lack of social capital; and 3) higher sensitivity to the rising costs of college tuition. Once enrolled in college these three barriers continue to challenge this student population and are exacerbated by two additional barriers: 1) a campus climate that may not always seem welcoming; and 2) weak integration into campus social and academic communities.

Recent actions/outcomes:

  • Since 2013, WSU has improved data sources to monitor student achievement and uses this information to understand and respond to bottlenecks and barriers, and to enhance opportunities for student success.
  • The Student Success Council, formed in 2013, monitors progress and facilitates collaboration on success initiatives. Council members include administrators, faculty, staff, and students from all campuses.
  • An initiative to support a culture of innovation and success as a prominent institution-wide priority launched in 2013 with seed funding from the Office of the Provost and some matching funds from colleges. Projects piloted, assessed, and scaled up effective tools, policies, strategies and collaborative processes for students, faculty and staff to improve the classroom environment, provide out-of-classroom support services in key areas of need, and provide resources for faculty to apply technology in creative ways.
  • The three areas of emphasis within the initiative have included:
    • Supporting faculty innovation and excellence in instruction
    • Strengthening academic preparation and student success
    • Providing tools and policies that facilitate academic support and student success
  • Campuses, colleges and other units also have developed and implemented projects tailored to the needs of students they serve.
  • A comprehensive Campus Culture and Climate initiative launched in 2017 includes five working groups to implement the plan developed by the campus community.
  • Reorganization initiatives to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of WSU’s student success efforts have involved Student Affairs, Enrollment Management, Information Technology Services, International Programs, the Graduate School, and the Office of Research.

Current/future emphasis or next steps:

  • A strategic reallocation process in 2016 funded the competitively awarded Transformational Change Initiative, to support students emotionally, socially, and academically while producing graduates positioned for life-long success. The initiative, which includes a parent handbook intervention, curriculum and faculty development, and a comprehensive research strategy, aims to improve student resiliency and empowerment using interventions known to support students’ emotional, social, and academic development.
  • WSU admissions has focused on improving the assessment of the academic preparedness of incoming students using a variety of approaches, including holistic review of applications and the use of data analytics to more rigorously assess the probability of academic success.
  • Projects focused on the transfer student experience have included a Transfer Clearinghouse to ease course transfer.
  • Technology tools have included advisor-facing dashboards that use predictive analytics to help keep students on track and a student-facing mobile app that provides just-in-time information and links to student-support resources.
  • WSU’s focus on increasing high-impact educational practices and student success initiatives have included initiatives such as:
    • Systematic assessment of all seven undergraduate learning goals, using assessment of student work by faculty, to inform improvements to courses and curriculum to meet the evolving needs;
    • Monitoring and emphasis on five high-impact practices such as capstones, internships, service learning, undergraduate research, and learning communities;
    • Continued emphasis on the use of assessment in degree programs, including those delivered online;
    • New buildings and facilities to expand opportunities for students and faculty, along with increased support for faculty pursuing innovative instructional techniques and technologies.

For more information at WSU:

NWCCU standards reference: Standard 4, 5.B.2


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