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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

WSSU seeks to raise graduation rates

The new chancellor at Winston-Salem State University, Donald Reaves, is right to make raising graduation and retention rates his top priority. Low rates in those areas have been a problem at the school for too long.

The school’s four-year graduation rate is about 18 percent, and its six-year rate is about 44 percent. The school is aiming for a four-year graduation rate of 30 percent and a six-year one of 56 percent, the Journal’s Laura Giovanelli recently reported.

Good graduation and retention rates “are the primary reason we’re here,” Reaves rightly said. “In the end, that is the measure of your success.”

Raising those rates won’t be easy. This is a complex problem. Reaves obviously realizes that, and has some good ideas for raising the rates. He wants to make sure there are enough classes and in the right sequence for students to graduate on time. He also wants to hire staff to advise students (faculty does that now) and raise admission standards.

N.C. A&T State University in Greensboro raised those standards this week. At WSSU, Reaves wants to raise the median GPA required for admission to 2.6 and the median SAT score to 800 next year. The medians in those are now 2.5 for GPA and 780 for SATs.

All in all, Reaves is tackling the problem of graduation rates realistically and honestly.

“I think we do a real disservice when students are not prepared,” Reaves said in regard to admissions. “And I think we will do a better job … if we guide them into the institutions that are designed to prepare them, such as the community colleges.

“And that’s a hard pill for some people to swallow, but, in the end, I think they have a far greater chance to succeed.”

When you keep more students, Reaves correctly noted, “you don’t have to recruit as hard year-in and year-out.”

Other factors also figure in the number of students dropping out. There are financial strains, and huge pressures to succeed, especially for freshmen from inferior schools competing against those from better schools. It’s no wonder that many students drop put. But with hard work, the problem can be curbed.

Measures to raise graduation rates such as hiring staff to help students will take money. Academic programs, in general, are expensive. Reaves, like any college president, has to be a good fundraiser. He’s leading by example. He and his wife, Deborah, have pledged $100,000 to WSSU.

Reaves, who was the chief financial officer at the University of Chicago before coming to WSSU, obviously believes in his new school. He has good reason to. His predecessor, Harold Martin, greatly enhanced WSSU.

But like any good college, WSSU is a work in progress that must constantly be led to greater heights. At WSSU, a big part of that journey has to be raising graduation rates.


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