WIU Selected as Model Institution for Degree Completion
April 26, 2010
MACOMB, IL – According to the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with 16 member states to improve public pre-K-12 and higher education, relatively few state leaders and citizens realize that the average college-completion rates fall well below high school graduation rates. In SREB's recent report, "Promoting a Culture of Student Success," Western Illinois University was cited among just 15 U.S. colleges and universities – and was the only Illinois university listed – that are outperforming most similar institutions in helping students succeed and graduate.
The study, which was released April 14, summarizes 15 institutions' successful approaches to improving graduation rates and student achievement. Despite rising college enrollment, improvement in students' timely completion of bachelor's degrees in the United States has stalled, according to the report. Most students who enter college as first-time, full-time freshmen take at least six years to earn a bachelor's degree — and only 55 percent graduate in that time span.
The SREB noted that the keystone of the institutions highlighted in the report, including such universities as California State University, Long Beach; Clarion of Pennsylvania; Montclair State University; Queens College of City University of New York (CUNY); Northwest Missouri State; and Sam Houston State, is a campus culture that supports student success. The study included entering freshman classes of 1996-2001. WIU's first-year student retention rate is 72 percent, while the 2006 graduation rate examined in the report was 55.6 percent.
"We are especially pleased to be recognized as a best practice institution by the SREB for our retention and graduation rates. Being included in this study further demonstrates our commitment to our students' success and that our primary commitment is to serve students," said WIU President Al Goldfarb. "I am also pleased that since this report was completed, our graduation rate has increased to a historic high of more than 59 percent."
Western was recognized for its commitment to full-time student advising, which the SREB indicates is important to student success. In addition, Western's leadership – administrative and faculty – as well as the University's GradTrac program and the vast array of campus activities offered were recognized for contributing to student success. The WIU Cost Guarantee, which locks in the cost of tuition, fees, room and board over a four-year period, was also recognized.
The University's First Year Experience (FYE) program was mentioned for its uniqueness in relationship to other first-year programs at other institutions. Western's FYE program, which is mandatory, offers for-credit general education courses specifically designed as FYE classes, and each FYE course includes extracurricular components to get students involved outside of the classroom.
In addition, the University's requirement that all students must live in residence halls during their first two years on campus is also a contributing factor to retention, according to the report. The Office of Academic Services, which oversees Western's alternative admission program; the University's expanded student orientation program; and the Student Assistance and Parent Service Center were also cited as integral to WIU's success in retaining students.
"The institutions profiled are helping many students complete college degrees who otherwise often do not graduate on time," said Cheryl Blanco, an SREB vice president who co-wrote and researched the report with consultant Paul Bradley. "The strategies they're using can be adopted by other colleges and universities, and will guide state policy decisions that will improve degree completion across the nation."
Founded by the region's governors and legislators in 1948, SREB was America's first interstate compact for education. Today it is the only regional education compact that works directly with state leaders, schools and educators to improve teaching, learning and student achievement at every level of education.