From the President: A Critical Question
Keith B. Humphrey
University of Arizona
It is late October and, if your campus is like mine, the actions you have already taken with your first-year class may very well determine who graduates in four years and who does not.
In a recent post to the ACPA President’s Blog, I challenged ACPA members to apply their leadership to ensure that our collective efforts are moving beyond promoting access to the higher education system: I believe we must follow the hope of access with the promise of attainment.
In all the roles I have held throughout my career—from Hall Director to Admissions Representative to Dean of Students—I have always believed what I did, and what student affairs professionals do, is ensure that students graduate. We do that in many ways—each one a valuable contribution to the developmental experiences of our students and to their ultimate goal of graduation.
The beginning of the year is full of hope on our campuses, especially for our first-year students. For many students, this time of the year presents a critical decision: “Do I stay or do I go?” Retention research suggests that it is anywhere within the first 3-8 weeks that a first-year student decides whether to remain on your campus, transfer, or stop out (some permanently).
For far too long, higher education institutions have relied upon the limited standards of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to track student retention. If a student leaves my institution after the first year and transfers to another institution for any number of legitimate reasons to transfer, the student’s withdrawal is counted as a failure by my campus. That is simply not right: attrition should count as a failure if a student stops out and does not ever return to their studies at any institution.
It is for that reason that I support the voluntary system of accountability that is quickly gaining steam across the country. A student who leaves and transfers to another college or university is still moving towards graduation: that is not a failure by any standard.
October is also full of hope at ACPA. Our Convention 2013 program team has been busy reviewing hundreds of program proposals for our groundbreaking convention in Las Vegas next March with our colleagues from the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA). You can be certain that there will be many programs that focus on strategies for enhancing degree attainment as part of the educational curriculum. Make your plans to join us now and be sure to be a part of the discussion.
Our higher education system is transforming, and the qualities that student affairs professionals bring to the table—creativity, flexibility, entrepreneurialism—are needed on your campuses to ensure that all of us are doing everything possible to produce the graduates our society desperately needs.
Please e-mail inquiries to Keith Humphrey.