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McPhee challenges status quo at student success town halls

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MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee will host a fourth campus town hall meeting Monday, April 28, inside the Student Union Parliamentary Room about the Quest for Student Success initiative. Three town hall meetings were held earlier this month. MTSU photo by

MTSU’s Student Union Parliamentary Room has served as a window into the university’s future recently as MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee has hosted a series of campus town hall meetings to share more information about the university’s Quest for Student Success initiative.

A fourth and final gathering is set for Monday, April 28, as McPhee and the university’s leadership continue to express the sense of urgency needed in making sure students who commit to the Blue Raider campus are met by faculty, staff and administrators who place their academic success as a top priority.

The university is implementing needed reforms to help students excel academically, earn their degrees and launch successful careers. The goal is to raise the MTSU graduation rate from 52 percent currently to 62 percent by 2020. The status quo “is no longer acceptable,” he said.

The president emphasized that a year and a half was spent crafting the student success initiative, with input from faculty, staff and students throughout the process. The purpose is by no means to water down or lower academic standards, but rather to find new ways of better engaging students — academically, financially, personally — to keep them on course to the stage at Murphy Center.

“We’re not lowering the bar,” McPhee told the capacity crowd during the first town hall. “We’re actually raising it for our students.”

The initiative falls in line with Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” goal to extend the reach of higher ed in Tennessee, where less than a third of adults hold some type of degree.

Among the changes called for at MTSU:
Stepped up recruitment of students who have greater potential to succeed at a four-year university; Enhanced academic experience of enrolled students to better ensure their success, including greater tutoring, better advising and an emphasis on more “high-tech and high-touch” approaches; And use of more innovative, data-informed best practices to facilitate success.

McPhee pointed to the pressure being placed upon higher education institutions across the country — at local, state and federal levels — to improve student outcomes while also addressing the rising level of student loan debt. While acknowledging that major reforms will take time, McPhee stressed that MTSU must have “a sense of urgency” about making changes.

A key area of focus is a renewed emphasis on advising, and the need to hire additional advising staff to reduce the student-to-adviser ratio. While the nationally recommended ratio is 300-to-1, some MTSU professional advisers are responsible for up to 1,000 students.

Provost Brad Bartel says the process has begun to eventually hire more than 40 additional professional advisers to be spread across the university’s colleges based on need. The goal is to have the advisers in place by mid-fall, said Bartel, who added that MTSU’s large percentage of first-generation college students (70 to 80 percent) makes strong advising critical in keeping those students on track to complete their degrees efficiently.

McPhee opens the floor to questions from the audience following his presentations, with suggestions ranging from the need to share best practices among the various committees to the need to recognize that students must hold up their end of the educational equation.

President McPhee wants to make sure faculty, staff and administrators are holding up their end.

“This is everybody’s business,” he said. “This is our initiative. We’re all in this boat together.”

Jimmy Hart is director of News and Media Relations at MTSU.

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Members Opinions:
May 02, 2014 at 8:36am
This specific article is interesting because I didn’t really know what President McPhee wanted to discuss at the town hall meetings so I didn’t go to those meetings. I think there can be a way for more students to graduate with the proposed changes that President McPhee suggested. I think the best change that the article talks about is the greater tutoring for students because I know some of my friends that were at this university that dropped out because they didn’t make good grades in the class and they didn’t know if someone from that department would be able to help them. I also think that the idea of hiring in new advisors for students will also help the graduation rate keep getting higher, because some students have no idea what classes that they need to take because their advisor either doesn't have the time to see them or they just don’t care and choose classes that they just really don't need. I think that all of the changes that President McPhee talked about that they listed in the article will help the graduation rate rise and more students will actually stick around and graduate instead of just going to school for one year.
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