College Completion Summit Audio Recap
University Marketing & Communications
Student discussion group reports and closing remarks
This is an audio recap of the College Completion Summit hosted by the University of Utah and the Lumina Foundation.
On September 30 and October 1, 2019, the College Completion Summit brought together presidents and senior leaders from public universities that have significantly advanced their college completion rates.
Gretchen Syverud, director of strategy integration for the Lumina Foundation, prefaces the reports from student group discussions.
But the biggest themes that I heard that crossed each of these different topics were transparency. And I’d say student appropriate transparency. Someone mentioned just a minute ago, “I may not sit through a three-hour board of trustees meeting, but I want to know what’s going on.”
And empowering students. While this group has maybe self-selected to be here, all students are invested in their own education.
Students present the results of group discussions.
One of the big things we talked about were how to improve like the quality of advising meetings and also how to improve the accountability of advisors. A lot of our students in college face, not so much, they don’t like deal with fear. But more so like they’re hesitant to talk to an advisor, because in a lot of situations advisors don’t necessarily look like you.
Just because some students come in and they may struggle with the specific course load. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not cut out for that specific major or program. It could be because they have a lot of stuff going on at home. Or it could be financial reasons, it could be a lot of everything’s going on. But most advisors don’t actually take that extra step to look into that.
Another thing was if we could do some sort of a thing to hold an advisor accountable, like there’s some sort of survey. So instead of like advisors being assigned based on last name, it can be more so, if it’s more so personality based, so they can understand what’s actually going on with you.
So we talked a lot about how we want to reduce the amount that we’re charging or that we want to give money to students. However, it’s not creating a learning aspect to it. So students are missing out on a critical part of how to use their money in the most effective ways. So we’re able to give them scholarships. But, how are we making sure that they’re using all of those things to the full potential, that next year they’re still going to be able to enroll and complete?
But we need to make it a more national level of talking about financial wellness for students. Because it leads to mental health as well and physical health.
Student: I’m a student that sits on our board of trustees. And a really big thing for Purdue that we’ve been proud of for the past few years is our tuition freeze. instead of looking at the idea of, “How do we get scholarships to students? How do we just assume that tuition is raising every year or just a matter of fact?” It’s, “Why don’t we look at the tuition itself? How do we look dollar for dollar, how we are providing them a better education?” If something we can’t justify as providing a better education to the student, why are we spending money on it?
Question to the students from Syverud.
If you’re a student, raise your hand. Do you like the word predictive analytics? How do you feel about that?
A student responds.
I study economics and anthropology and a huge aspect of economics is taking data and applying it to larger social issues and social constructs. But a lot of anthropology is combining the two because I think about how much these numbers in this data actually represent people, so I was a little off put by the idea of predictive analytics because a lot of the times you have to recognize the coders, due to the world that we live in, they’re approaching things from racial and class biases and this then comes through with the code. So, to actually assume that black and brown students from lower income communities are going to do worse than students just by nature, I believe is a false assumption and I feel like it’s really important that administrators and schools actually ask the students, “What do you need? Have you ever filled out the FAFSA before? Do you feel college ready? Do you feel like you’re financially literate?” These students are no longer 10-year-old children They are young adults. Let students have some accountability, give them back their agency. Let them tell you what they need.
last spring another graduate student and I served as peer mentors for a UB seminar, a freshman seminar, specifically designed for students who had previously failed the course. So it was literally a class for failures. many students started by asking their faculty members for help. So it was interesting to hear that with all the resources on campus, students still feel most comfortable in many situations, reaching out first to their faculty members. So at these big R1 institutions, they’re research-first schools, not teaching schools and faculty members just don’t have the time to address these students’ concern, which is worrisome, right?
And then the other one was a couple of students had mentioned going to counseling services, but as soon as you walk in the door, you sign in and it’s what’s your person number? And so everything at these big schools is, what’s your person number and students had actually voiced to us that they felt like a number.
Here’s Syverud again.
Empowering students to define their own success and create their own plan translates to maybe being a little put off by the 15 to Finish or four years graduation is a measure of success.
Right before we walked out of that room, one of the other students actually asked all of us, I think it was about 15 of us. And they’re like, “Who does not like this vision for a campaign, 15 to Finish, any of that.” And I am pretty sure over 90% of us raised their hand. We go to college to get an education, to get a degree. But, so, as an engineer it’s quite literally impossible to finish in four without experiencing some mental illness or just going through it. But also when I’m earning my degree, I want to be learning in my classes.
I want to be able to have knowledge that I’m able to put forward in the job market, in graduate school, whatever I plan on doing next when I finish, when I complete my degree.
But also if I want to finish it four and I have to take summer classes now my summers are away from me doing research, getting an internship, doing something that will help me after I leave the institution. So for us, we didn’t feel that finishing in four is the best motto. It’s finish when you can finish. I know that everyone’s trying to get us out of school, have a degree. But definitely I don’t want to be an individual—because if I exit, if I graduate with a degree and I don’t have a job afterwards, I just started back from the beginning.
Student: I work in the Dean of Students Office as a student advocate and part of my role is to oversee compassionate medical withdrawal process for the university. And one of the major things that I hear from students about why they are reluctant to do that is because it’s going to make it longer for me to graduate. I won’t graduate in four years. I won’t be able to do this. I won’t be able to do that. And basically, for these students that are already struggling with issues, half our withdrawals, more than half are due to mental health reasons.
For these students that are already struggling with these issues, sometimes this Finish in Four campaign can make people feel like they are failing. When really they’re actually stopping and getting help for something that is out of their control. And so, I understand why we have these campaigns and I think they are important to an extent, but I do think we have to be mindful on how we present them to students.
Martha Bradley, Sr. Associate Vice President For Academic Affairs at the University of Utah, concludes the summit.
Some of you may know that the U of U Health Sciences is actually really famous for the exceptional patient experience.
So, building on that success, we launched what we called the Exceptional Educational Experience, or E3. And what that meant in the first year was to do research about the student experience, but listening to students. When asked about the exceptional patient experience, then-VP of Health Sciences, Lorris Betz said, “A medical experience is only exceptional if the patient thinks it is.”
So, we’ve taken that to heart and we’re listening to what students have to say about their experience at the U. Their comments fell in four big buckets. Navigating. Think about all the obstacles our students experience. Belonging. And many of you have talked about belonging in different ways today. Learning. They’re here to learn. They tell us that when they walk in the door. And then thriving. So if a student is held up for weeks waiting for the results of his financial aid application, they are going to interpret it as us not wanting them to attend.
If a student cannot find a person on campus to look in the eyes and have them advise them about ways they could enhance their experience or solve a problem, if they can’t find a way to connect to a community, they will feel like they don’t belong, that we don’t value them or respect them, that we don’t hear them. And as we say in Utah, “What the heck?” Right? If a student sits in a classroom and a lazy teacher doesn’t necessarily prepare as well as they should have or doesn’t respond to emails or doesn’t give thoughtful assignments, they will be unmotivated. They will be uninspired. And most importantly, they will fail to thrive. If a student can’t pay their bills, if they can’t find support for the issues they face, if they are so overwhelmed that they want to throw in the towel, they will. They will drift away and disappear.
So how do we fully engage students who have to hurry to work at their second job so they can feed their family and pay their rent? And then we invite them to sit for an hour in the lobby of the library and listen to a brown bag lecture. They will cave and they won’t be retained and they won’t complete. And their lives will be changed and it will be our bad. So remember when one of us said, “What’s getting in the way of their graduating?” Remember the next part? It’s life.
Do you remember the comment? “I’m really bad at asking for help.” But if we listen, these wonderful students who spoke up today, if we’ll listen to them. They want us to know how to make the connections between what we ask them to do and their lives in the future. They want to connect to a community that is larger than the one that they came in with when they began and that anchors them and gives them meaning and a sense of belonging. They want to know about our opportunities, but also about our distractions. If there’s going to be an interruption in terms of traffic or a construction site makes it impossible for you to walk across campus as you plan, they want to know.
They want better communication. Students have told us at this meeting, education is power. It is giving me a voice. At undergraduate studies, we had a retreat last Friday and we had a student and parent panel at the end and we had been focusing on the Exceptional Educational Experience. We asked the students to talk about an exceptional educational experience they had had and to a person, they mentioned a human interaction. It was when another human on campus had shown them kindness. It was a human who engaged them on a deeper level than they had to, that might’ve been out of their job description, but was willing to engage in this interaction.
The parents were so interesting. The parents hoped that we would be kind. And I remember, and I’ll never forget a particularly poignant moment when one student, Abdul said, “Just remember my face,” and he had this wonderful face, “Remember my face.” So, when we are focusing on retention and completion and the metrics we worship because of the forces we feel from the legislature or performance-based funding, we must never forget the faces of our students. Of Abdul or Lizzie or Aspen or Sidney or Quincy or Samora. They have trusted us to help them have a wonderful life and it’s honest to deliver. Let’s all be all in. So, thank you so much for being here with us on our campus. We’ve loved having you here.
UMC: Thank you for listening. Find the audio recaps of the preceding sessions at collegecompletion.utah.edu.