In “An Open Letter to College and University Leaders: College Completion Must Be Our Priority” released this week by the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, Shenandoah University was cited (pages 12-13) for its efforts to “…streamline administrative procedures, making it easier for students to focus on academic and cultural pursuits…” and for creating a student-centered culture that helps improve student engagement and retention.
“Back in 2008, Shenandoah’s retention remained consistent with national norms, but we just weren’t satisfied with that. We believed we could—and should—do better,” said Vice President for Enrollment Management & Student Success Clarresa Morton, Ph.D.
So, Shenandoah conducted a self-study to identify areas for innovation and improvement. University leaders utilized the Foundations of Excellence® model developed by the John N. Gardener Institute to examine the viability of academic programs and to focus on improving services available to first-year and transfer-students. The university established a new Office for Enrollment Management & Student Success and reshaped its Office of Student Life. It refined new academic offerings, like the Going Global: First-Year Seminar, to raise awareness of global issues and facilitate the transition to college for first-year students. It retooled its Student Government Association, created new recreational programs and refined methods and opportunities for students to engage in hands-on service opportunities in and out of the classroom.
The university also worked to improve academic advising and tweaked services offered by its Wellness Center, Academic Enrichment Center and Writing Center, all focused on providing a variety of support services to help faculty and staff quickly identify and assist students in crisis—academically and socially. It created a new Center for Teaching and Learning to support best practices and assist faculty members to improve their teaching and learning skills, utilizing the latest technology tools to best serve student needs. It also improved communications with prospective students and parents, consolidating check-in activities into a one-stop service center during Welcome Week and adapting student communications around Facebook and other student-preferred methods.
“At Shenandoah University, we’ve created a community that focuses on student success,” said Dr. Morton. “We strive to foster an environment in which our students can succeed during their time here and to lay the foundation, not only for successful, professional careers but for the rest of their lives.”
As a result, Shenandoah has seen early gains for its efforts.
“Our freshman-to-sophomore retention has increased from 69.8 percent in fall 2007 to 80.2 percent in fall 2012,” said Morton. “It’s well documented that a college education leads to a higher earned income and better quality of life for graduates. Our goal is to provide students with access to the programs and services they need to persist to graduation and take their places as leaders wherever they go.”
The National Commission on Higher Education Attainment was created with participation from the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).
Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D., served on the Commission of Higher Education Attainment with two other presidential colleagues—Vice Chair Andrew K. Benton from Pepperdine University and George E. Martin from St. Edwards University—representing the NAICU. Overall, 17 college and university presidents and chancellors, six ex officio members and two ACE staff members served on the commission representing public and private higher educational institutions nationwide.