The next few weeks really matter. Your interaction with our students over that time could literally make the difference in whether they come back next semester and next year. If they come back, their chances of staying to earn a life-changing degree go up dramatically. If they don't, chances are much greater they never will.
Maybe they need one more advising meeting. Or one more study review session. Maybe you'll find one of them tearful after class, worried about next semester's financial aid. It might be at a library reference desk, or in a dining commons cashier line. You might notice something doesn't seem right, and maybe a student just needs to know you care, however you can express it helpfully.
That's one of the great things I've learned about UMS. Our faculty and staff really do care about students. Every one of us - whether faculty, administrator, or staff - makes an impact on our students. And we should always be aware of the chance to do more.
Your help and support really does make a difference. On one of my recent small campus visits, I heard the story of a custodial employee who encountered a student crying in the hallway. Our employee's concern and help to connect the student with support services we had available helped the student through a crisis that could have led to the student leaving the university - without a degree.
When our students come back, they stay on track to a degree. The degree isn't just about getting a job, of course. When our students earn a degree, they can expect higher lifetime earnings, better health, better community engagement, and broader educational, workforce and community development for their families and communities and beyond.
We have no higher mission than to help our students realize the benefits of their degrees, so we shouldn't overlook even the smallest opportunities and interactions to help keep them on track to achieving them.
When I became Chancellor in July, I pledged that I would be transparent about my work and communicate with you regularly about it. I've honored my pledges so far with our unified accreditation recommendation by
five years' worth of UMS's correspondence and records on accreditation and communicating directly with you about our work, our recommendations to the UMS Board of Trustees, and our ongoing planning that will lead up to the Board vote on unified accreditation in late January 2020.
I'm going to keep communicating directly with you, and today, with our fall semester nearing its end, is an opportune time to talk about retention - helping our students return.
This is worth our attention. Across UMS we spend $12 million on our efforts to recruit and enroll our students, but hardly a small fraction of that amount in any coordinated, data-driven effort to make sure they return from one semester to the next, and from one year to the next, keeping pace toward a degree. On average, and accepting that there is substantial variance between our universities on these numbers,
44% of UMS undergraduate students who come to us with no credit hours leave after their first year
, and of those who come with 1-30 credit hours, 32% don't return for the next year. I hope you agree with me that these numbers are simply unacceptable.
So I'm calling on you to keep doing what you're doing - and more. Find out what efforts your university already has underway to build on best practices for student success and completion, and then see where you can help more.
It's imperative that we all make student success a central focus of our work, and that we work more intentionally across UMS to ensure that those best-practice initiatives already proven nationally and locally are supported, implemented, and improved upon. Watch for work too from a new UMS Student Success Steering Committee, which we will be forming shortly to share best practices among our universities, determine appropriate metrics and goals for our individual and collective retention and completion work, and develop ongoing professional and faculty development opportunities specific to student success, including retention, of course.
There is no "easy fix" for student success. The work that goes into helping our students be successful is multi-faceted and complicated, made more so by the need to address a range of populations and student needs across Maine's large geography. That work takes time, broad institutional support and participation, and investment. I am convinced that, with my call to action on retention and return, we can take a fresh look at what helps our students be successful in today's environment, what interventions and tools we can employ to enable this to occur, and launch or improve best-practice strategies that help our learners obtain the degrees they seek.
By doing that, we'll best meet our mission to produce graduates who will live, work and thrive in their chosen occupations, become effective lifelong learners, and contribute to the health, vitality and futures of the communities in which they reside.
I hope you'll add your voice and hands to the effort. We'll need everyone's focus and work to be successful for our students.