“We can do better.” – Paul Thayer
That simple statement of belief set in motion a decade-long initiative that has transformed Colorado State University and the way it serves its undergraduates, now and in the future.
“In 2005, in terms of persistence to graduation, we were just about average, not struggling but not excelling either,” recalls Alan Lamborn, then vice provost for undergraduate affairs and now associate provost for educational attainment for CSU. At the time, CSU’s six-year graduation rate was just above 60 percent – up from about 50 percent in 1990, but it had remained more or less flat since 1995. “The administration had been looking at research on programs that were above average, and didn’t see any reason we couldn’t implement some of those best practices here.”
And so, with the full support of then-Provost Tony Frank, the Student Success Initiative was born.
If SSI’s founding belief statement was simple, its goals were audacious. By the time the class of 2017 received their degrees, CSU would:
- Achieve a 70 percent or greater six-year graduation rate
- Eliminate the gap between six-year graduation rates of minority and non-minority students, adjusted for entering background characteristics
The first step to increasing the graduation rate 10 percentage points was to find out what had been holding it at 60 percent for the previous decade.
A core team coordinated by Paul Thayer, then assistant vice president for student affairs and later, special assistant to the provost and associate vice president emeritus for student success, reviewed the existing research and discovered that the best outcomes were achieved when learning in the classroom continued outside the classroom. They began gathering information on what it would take to align curricular and co-curricular activities on campus to maximize student engagement and deepen learning outcomes. This process resulted in the creation of a white paper in 2006 titled, “A Plan for Excellence: Enhancing Undergraduate Education and Student Success.”
Two prominent initiatives emerged from this white paper:
- The creation of TILT, The Institute for Learning and Teaching, to transform teaching methods and expand learning resources for students, and the Center for Advising and Student Achievement, now the Collaborative for Student Achievement, to focus specialized staff time and attention on the needs of first-year, undeclared, transfer, first-generation, and other traditionally underserved students.
- In addition, SSI partnered with colleges to create an Academic Success Coordinator and Academic Advisor Network of now 70+ staff members to serve as advisors focused on holistic advising, data-informed practice, and facilitating student belongingness.
By 2012, Colorado State began hitting historically high rates of graduation, not only at the six-year mark, but also for four- and five-year degree completion. In fact, between 2007 and 2012, the four-year graduation rate steadily increased from 38 percent to 45 percent.