NOTE: This was posted as part of the ACPA President’s Blog for May 2015
Please visit ACPA On Demand for an interview of me discussing this topic.
Regardless of the news source one turns to, the completion agenda is in the headlines of the higher education section. It’s also the hot topic on the radar screens of policymakers’ and college presidents. While many higher education officials are concerned with the impact this federal policy has on higher education at the national, state, and local level, we as college student educators can actualize the opportunity the completion agenda presents. This policy provides a chance to demonstrate the impact we have on the success of college students.
In February of 2009, President Obama outlined his completion agenda with the goal of attaining the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020 (Kanter, Ochoa, Nassif, & Chong, 2011). According to 2012 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 19th out of 28 countries studied (Weston, 2014). There is some work to be done on this front.
President Obama presented three reasons supporting this policy. The first was that a college degree is required for 60% of jobs. In addition to being a requirement for the majority of jobs, an individual with a college degree earns 40% more over a lifetime than those without. This is a significant financial benefit. Finally, President Obama believed that an educated citizenry was needed for an engaged democracy (Kanter, Ochoa, Nassif, & Chong, 2011).
Future of Higher Education Funding
This policy position has influenced conversations regarding state funding for higher education with a new focus on program-based budgeting. With this budgeting model state allocations are based on results, in this case completion rates, rather than the number of students enrolled, which has been the traditional model. As of January 2015, 34 states had some form of program-based budgeting for higher education funding although the percentage of overall funding based on graduation percentages does vary (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015).
We can debate the pros and cons of this form of program-based budgeting, but it appears to be the future higher education funding model. With continued financial issues impacting colleges and universities including Louisiana State University (O’Donoghue, 2015), student affairs budgets are in jeopardy requiring vice presidents to not only advocate for more resources but also defend current resources.
At ACPA16 in Tampa, ACPA sponsored a panel of five college presidents who came up through the ranks of student affairs. These presidents included Joe Bertolino from Lyndon State College, Marybeth Cooper from Springfield College, Tom Jackson from Blackhills State University, Steve Tyrell from North Country Community College, and Karen Whitney from Clarion University. During this panel each president emphatically stated the need for college student educators to demonstrate their impact on retention and graduation. The continued that support of retention and graduation is the key to demonstrating value within a college or university.
Turning Crisis Into Opportunity
Some may view the issue of declining resources and centralized focus on retention as a crisis facing college student educators – a crisis that shifts to a financial bottom line, not students. However, a focus on retention actually centers on students and how educators can help each individual graduate. When one takes a moment to reviews the literature regarding retention and graduation, college student educators play a key role many of those success factors.
John Braxton, William Doyle, Harold Hartley, Amy Hirschy, Willis Jones, and Michael McLendon published Rethinking College Student Retention in November of 2013. (For a review of the book in the Journal of College Student Development 55(6), visit https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_college_student_development/v055/55.6.henning.html) In this text, the authors discuss their theories of retention for residential colleges and commuter institutions explaining how they tested each. The factors influencing retention in residential colleges include:
- Commitment to getting a degree.
- Commitment to attending an institution.
- Social integration (degree of social affiliation and congruency of beliefs, norms, and values of the community – in other words “connection” and “fit”)(antecedents include). Social integration can be deconstructed into:
- Commitment of the institution to student welfare: Concern by the institution to the growth and development of students.
- Community potential: Feeling connected to a group of individuals.
- Institutional integrity: Words and actions of faculty and staff are congruence with mission and values.
- Proactive social adjustment: Ability to adjust in a proactive manner to overcome challenges.
- Psychosocial engagement: Amount of psychological energy students invest in social interactions with peers and their participation in extracurricular activities.
- Ability to pay: Satisfaction with cost of attending/seeing college as a financial value.
The components in the theory of retention at commuter colleges include the following:
- Student entry characteristics (SES, parents education, ability, race, gender, etc.).
- External environment (finances, support, work, family, community).
- Campus environment, which includes:
- Student characteristics interaction with campus environment (being motivated to adapt to this type of environment, motivation to graduate, and self-efficacy)
- Organizational characteristics that foster academic and intellectual development including,
- Commitment of the institution to student welfare: Concern by the institution to the growth and development of students
- Institutional integrity: Words and actions of faculty and staff are congruence with mission and values
Upon reviewing these two theories, it’s clear that college student educators play a major role in retention. Here are just some of the roles we play:
- We demonstrate that the institution cares.
- We connect students with campus communities.
- We support them as they continually adjust.
- We create opportunities to engage.
- We are also conduits to support the mission and values of the institution.
What Can We Do and How Can ACPA Help
First, college student educators must become familiar with retention theory. As professionals it is our responsibility to bring theory into practice. When we use theory, we build and hone our practice on research rather relying on anecdotes and ideas of what “might work.” Being familiar with theory also permits college student educators to better tell the story of our impact on student success. And, in language that faculty are familiar – research and scholarship. And perhaps more importantly, we will be able to describe the outcomes of our work in the words of university leaders and educational policy makers – retention and graduation.
The focus on completion presents college student educators with an opportunity to be more intentional in our work but to also demonstrate our impact beyond housing students, feeding students, and helping them have fun.
ACPA is here to help you leverage this opportunity. Review the research and scholarship that ACPA generates and disseminates in the Journal of College Student Development, About Campus, Developments, as well as ACPA sponsored books and monographs. Bridge theory to practice by attending a professional development institute such as the Student Affairs Assessment Institute or the Residential Curriculum Institute. Connect with colleagues doing similar work. ACPA’s state chapters, coalitions (formerly standing committees), commissions, and newly created communities of practice provide these connection opportunities.
We have an opportunity in front of us. Rather than seeing it as a crisis or obstacle, we should leverage it to demonstrate our impact, but more importantly to help students succeed. ACPA can assist you in your journey. Tap into the resources now!
Donoghue, J. (2015). LSU drafting ‘academic bankruptcy’ plan in response to budget crisis. The Times-Picayne (2015, April 22). Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/04/lsu_academic_bankruptcy.html
Kanter, M., Ochoa, E., Nassif, R., & Chong, F. (2011). Meeting President Obama’s 2020 college completion goal. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/meeting-president-obamas-2020-college-completion-goal.
National Conference of State Legislatures (2015, January 13). Performance-Based Funding for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/performance-funding.aspx
Weston, L. (2014). OECD: The US has fallen behind other countries in college completion. BusinessInsider (2014, September 9). Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/r-us-falls-behind-in-college-competition-oecd-2014-9 .