Student Success and the Academic Blueprint

When I came to Saint Mary's three years ago, I said that I wanted us to be the college of choice for students with a social conscience. We are on our way to becoming just that, as our students seem to know more about us when they come and leave with priorities and values increasingly consistent with our mission. We know, for instance, that from the time undergraduate students enter as freshmen to the time they graduate, they place greater importance on becoming an authority in their fields, influencing social values, helping others who are in difficulty, writing original works, creating artistic work, helping to promote racial understanding, keeping up to date with political affairs, and improving understanding of other countries and cultures.

Our graduate programs increasingly incorporate service leaning into their curricula, and we have become ever more explicit about the shared values across professional, graduate, and undergraduate programs. Our high impact teaching practices are nationally recognized, such as our hybrid graduate programs and our collaborations in student and faculty research, creative activities, and leadership development. These practices typically foster student success.

At the same time, identifying specifically what works for students, what they know and can do when they leave Saint Mary's, can be difficult to do, particularly when we are asked to assess student performance in a way that can be compared to other colleges and universities. As federal and state budgets for higher education shrink, the pressure increases to justify how student aid is being used and whether our students graduate. Our freshmen fall-to-spring retention is at an all-time high of 96.8%, but our undergraduate four and six year graduation rates should be higher. With mounting public pressure for accountability, tuition that is already high, and family income leveling at best, we owe our students greater opportunities to complete their degrees in as timely a manner as possible, whether undergraduates or graduate and professional students.

Our Academic Blueprint offers many steps for advancing student success. Over the past two months, the Blueprint has been circulating among faculty and staff informally and is now posted on my web page with a tentative project time line and FAQ. The Academic Blueprint emphasizes the collaboration, community, and shared inquiry demanded by our mission – the cultivation of interactions that encourage authentic discovery of self and inclusive engagement with others in our pursuit of truth. It also advances educational practices that facilitate progress through degree programs.

Individual Schools, academic programs, and administrative units are already moving forward with the directions established in the Blueprint:

• The School of Economics and Business Administration, in aligning their strategic plan with the Academic Blueprint, are considering the phrase, "Think Globally, Lead Responsibly" as guiding many of their programs.

• Our Master of Arts in Leadership has developed a new concentration in Social Justice.

• The service of our students extends globally and promotes leadership for social justice, whether through the contributions of our newest graduates in Leadership Studies in working for Catholic Charities, the international service work of our TransGlobal Executive MBA program, January Term service courses both domestically and abroad, our Christian Service Internships, or the service and community-based research work of CILSA.

• Our first "inbound study abroad" students arrive in the fall, and we are pursuing new partnerships around the globe.

• The Kalmanovitz School of Education has drafted a strategic plan aligned with the Blueprint, including items such as collaboration across campus, hybrid delivery of programs, and expansion of Lasallian partnerships.

• The College Committee on Inclusive Excellence is sponsoring peer facilitators of difficult dialogues and drafting language about inclusion for possible inclusion on course syllabi.

• The proposed work of the Core Curriculum Committee will support faculty development in American Diversity, Global Perspectives, and writing across the curriculum.

• College support of student performances, faculty research, and grant writing have all increased.

• Our Writing Center is now staffed with Director Teresa Kramer.

• We have raised the percentage of undergraduate honors students at admission and with the entering class are likely to lower the undergraduate student admit rate below 70%.

• We are looking at ways to expand faculty office space on campus, and furniture replacement in Dante is complete.

Many colleges and universities make claims about their uniqueness, and certainly Saint Mary's makes compelling contributions to students' lives. No other institution brings such diverse students to the Catholic intellectual tradition throughout their collegiate experiences. Brother Donald Mansir has called this tradition "faith seeking intellectual understanding" which extends beyond "a particular religious commitment" and "strives to identify the good not only for oneself but also for the community." This inclusiveness, coupled with our commitment as Lasallian educators, devoted to the education of "people who are in difficult and challenging situations," makes us distinctive. The practice of such an education is advanced through the directions in the Blueprint: ethical and effective engagement in a diverse and global world, teaching and research for innovation, creativity, and collaboration, leadership that advances social justice, and improving student success.

Increasingly, students are choosing us for their education. We share responsibility for their education with them and must continue to learn what works, stop what doesn't, and showcase our achievements as a community. Our implementation of the Blueprint will help us do just that.


Beth Dobkin