Student success is focus of Southeastern GRAD Act agreement
Contact: Rene Abadie
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University officials said new initiatives in combination with those begun several years ago should continue to improve graduation rates and other measures of student success, which align with goals of the institution’s GRAD Act agreement that was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents today.
“We believe our commitment to higher admission standards, expanded use of technology to track student progress and to intervene when needed, as well as partnerships with secondary schools to better prepare college-bound students will be keys to our ability to meet the six-year goals established in conjunction with the Board of Regents,” said President John L. Crain. “The goals in this agreement are fully consistent with existing long-term priorities at Southeastern.”
Under the GRAD Act approved in the last legislative session, the board entered into performance agreements with participating institutions, in which the institutions commit to meet certain objectives in exchange for increased autonomy and flexibility, including the ability to raise tuition up to 10 percent each year. Under previous approval by the legislature, Southeastern and other institutions raised tuition five percent in the fall semester, with an additional five percent authorized by the GRAD Act being kept in escrow pending the Board’s action Wednesday. Institutions can only raise tuition up to the level of their peers under the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).
“Our tuition currently is among the lowest of our peer institutions in the 16 states under the SREB and actually is less than many universities at a lower institutional classification,” Crain explained. “It will take years of increased tuition rates for us to approach the average of our peers.”
The agreement focuses primarily on measures of student success, including student retention and graduation rates. Other performance measures under the legislation include goals regarding transfer and articulation agreements, workforce and economic development initiatives, and efficiency and accountability measures that will be negotiated in the future. In all, progress will be measured by 52 parameters.
Southeastern projects achieving a graduation rate between 37.5 to 41.5 percent by the end of the six-year GRAD Act period, keeping it on track to match the SREB’s peer goal of 44 percent.
“There are the possibilities of some ups and downs over the intervening years,” Crain explained. “The cohorts being measured include the so-called 2005 ‘Katrina class,’ which saw the lives and education of a significant number of students at Southeastern and other area universities disrupted by the storm.”
While Southeastern reached a record enrollment of more than 16,000 students that fall – in part due to the influx of temporary New Orleans area students – the university also had a significant number of students who were forced for economic and other reasons to resign from the university then and in subsequent semesters.
Crain said the federal criteria used to calculate graduation rate also causes some confusion because it includes only first time, full time freshman who start at the same institution; it does not account for transfers from other institutions, part time students, or students who take longer than six years to graduate.
“Southeastern admits around 3,000 new students every fall and graduates about 2,500 students a year,” he explained. “But, if you examine those graduates, a significant number are not included in our federally-defined graduation rate because they don’t fit the definition of the cohort.”
Award productivity – defined as the ratio of the number of degrees awarded to the annual full time student enrollment – is expected to increase from a baseline of 64.7 percent to a range of 69.6 percent and 73.6 percent.
“Significant improvement in student performance, such as retention and graduation rates, is not something that can be achieved overnight,” he said. “It requires long-term initiatives that once implemented are sustained over multiple years.”
Southeastern first adopted admission standards in 2000 and incrementally enhanced those standards over the next five years. This semester, the university raised its admission standards again.
The GRAD Act agreement also calls on Southeastern to improve its freshman-to- sophomore cohort retention rate from the current 67.5 percent to a range of 69 to 73 percent by year six, and the first-to-third year retention rate from the current 51.2 percent to a range of 53.8 to 57.8 percent.
Crain cited several new initiatives in addition to the latest increase in admission standards that he expects will help yield an improvement in retention and graduation rates. On-line degree mapping for students allows the university to more effectively work with students to plan out their course work over their entire degree program, track student progress and intervene when appropriate. Southeastern’s Early Start program gives high school students the opportunity to earn college level credit while better preparing them for postsecondary education. In addition, the university is also offering progression scholarships to encourage students to complete their undergraduate degrees within four years.