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UL System aims for graduation rate goal

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Strategic framework calls for 150,000 graduates by 2025

The University of Louisiana System wants to produce 150,000 graduates by 2025, a 20 percent increases over recent trends, said the leader of the state’s largest higher education system, which includes both Grambling State and Louisiana Tech universities.

UL System president Jim Henderson said the system’s graduation target comes from a strategic framework to compete in 21st century high education organized by the nine four-year university presidents inside the system.

“We live in a 21st century workforce that require more skills than ever before,” Henderson said. “When you look at the statistics, a lot of good jobs are being filed today by those with bachelor’s degrees. We have to produce more graduates in order to be competitive.”

The UL system grew approximately 1 percent from 90,439 students in the fall of 2016 to 91,501 in the latest census, according to the Associated Press. The system also includes McNeese State University, Nicholls State University, Northwestern State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Louisiana at Monroe and University of New Orleans.

Henderson said state budget cuts can attribute to the relatively stagnate gains in enrollment.

However, Henderson said the framework, which will shape the system’s efforts to advance educational attainment statewide, empower the state’s citizens, meet the needs of business and industry, grow the economy and enrich communities, “creates a story,” which will help the state legislature to make important decisions as it relates to higher education.

“Every dollar counts,” Henderson said. “Investing in our higher education is key to Louisiana staying competitive in the 21st century workforce.”

However, Henderson said the system currently relies more than 80 percent of self-generated resources.

“Philanthropy and tuition drive our success more so than the reliance on the state,” he said.
Henderson said he believes the work the nine university presidents have done and the “spirit of competition that exists among these nine” will help boost the graduation rates to the framework’s goal.

UL System officials split up the nine university presidents into three teams, which explored and evaluated designated themes including academic success, student success and educational attainment, economic development, research and innovation and financial stewardship and accountability, in order to complete the framework.

Louisiana Tech president Les Guice the team that evaluated economic development, research and innovation.

The group came up with a plan on how the system grows as the world moves into a knowledge base society and finding new opportunities for the future.

“We spoke with public and private sectors and agreed all of our institutions have a role to place,” he said. “We all must contribute to education and growth those entering the workforce.”

Guice said he believes the system can reach its graduation goal for 2025 even if the number of graduates and high school graduates are not expected to be increasing.

“We have to find creative ways to go down the pipeline and get them,” he said. “We have to reach out to non-traditional, veterans and others and bring them to our programs. We have to reduce the incarceration rate. People have to understand that our future relies on education.”

Sam Speed, Louisiana Tech dean of student engagement and undergraduate recruitment, said the UL System’s framework sounds like in a lot of ways aligns with Tech’s goals.

“Dr. Guice said when he took over as president that he wanted to grow enrollment to 15,000 in 2020,” said Speed, who assumed his current role in July. “In a way, you could say that we were ahead of the game, if you will.”

However, in order to achieve both Tech and the UL System’s goals, recruitment and retention will prove to be vital, Speed said.

“That means we must make sure we have the necessary tools to recruit and retain,” he said.

“We must continue to recruit students by showing them what we have to offer. And in order to retain them, we must continue to communicate with our professors and offer the resources our students need to stay in school. We all must work together.”

Grambling State president Rick Gallot said he was part the team gathering information on academic success, student success and educational attainment.

Gallot, who leads the system’s only historically black colleges and universities institution, said he believes the UL System’s graduation goal is a reasonable aspirational goal to set and can be achieved by continuing to go through different pipelines.

Grambling State University officials recently announced a 7 percent increase in enrollment for the second consecutive year, bringing the enrollment numbers past 5,000.

“We have sort of a reenergize, collaborating alumni chapters across the country,” he said.

“Generally, 1/3 of our students are from outside of Louisiana. But we also have been emphasizing recruitment around a 75 mile radius around Grambling.”

A recent report by HBCU Digest, a website dedicated to HBCU schools, recently reported that Grambling State would have to “nearly triple” the amount of graduates in order to keep pace with the UL System’s goal.

Gallot said there was never any discussion by any of the university presidents of what type of formula would need to be followed in order to reach that goal.

“That was (hashtag) fake news,” he said. “They’re methodology of that was created from thin air.”

However, in order to reach that goal, all nine universities, including Grambling State, would have to retain students until graduation.

Susan Wiley, Grambling State student success and retention professor, said the BannerWeb Early Alert program, which allows faculty to identify, contact and refer potentially at-risk students early each semester, the faculty and peer tutoring programs that assist students struggling in general education courses such as math, English, sciences and other educational courses and peer mentoring program among other things.

“We realize that the quality of the services that we provide to our internal and external customers plays an integral role in student retention,” said Wiley in an email interview.

“Grambling State will continue to retain students by enhancing and implementing student success and retention initiatives.”

Grambling State officials will also re-activate a campus-wide student and retention taskforce consisting of faculty and staff from various departments throughout the campus, Wiley said.
From this taskforce, a three-year campus-wide retention plan will be developed and serve as the university’s official document regarding student success and retention initiatives.

“This plan will assist us in focusing our efforts to increased student success, retention and graduation rates,” she said. “Student retention is definitely one of President Gallot’s priorities. Grambling State will do its part in achieve this goal because of our history and commitment to producing graduates, leaders and productive citizens for the world of work.”

For now, Henderson said he too believes the graduation goal, as well as the rest of the framework created by the universities’ presidents, will be achieved.
“I hope we can exceed (the graduation rate goal,)” he said.

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