Twelve campuses excel at student success

American Association of State Colleges and Univers
September 29, 2005Contact: Heather Berg 202.478.4665
American Association of State Colleges and Universities Washington, D.C. - A new study finds that campus culture and university leadership help improve student success. The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), working with the National Association of System Heads and the Education Trust have identified aspects of leadership and campus culture that resulted in 12 campuses reporting higher-than-predicted graduation rates or higher-than-predicted improvement in graduation rates. The 12 campuses identified were: California State University Stanislaus
Clemson University (S.C.)
City University of New York John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Elizabeth City State University (N.C.)
Louisiana Tech University
Montclair State University (N.J.)
Murray State University (Ky.)
Northwest Missouri State University
Truman State University (Mo.)
University of Northern Iowa
University of Wisconsin - La Crosse Virginia State University The study found that what sets these campuses apart, and well above average, is the presence of a campus culture that values student success. The culture reinforces the belief that the students can and should succeed. It projects a prevailing attitude that what is now being done can be done better and conveys mutually high expectations for students and for faculty and staff. Successful student retention occurs because students are consistently involved in a close and mutually reinforcing network of campus ties that include residence life, frequent student-faculty contact and a rich range of extracurricular activities. The study identified the role of leadership at these institutions as having two qualities. First, "leadership" is a shared responsibility-occurring at all levels and deeply embedded in the way the institution works as an organization on a day-to-day basis. Second, the leader builds and sustains the culture by listening more than talking and offering a consistent personal modeling of a particular collective vision. This study demonstrates that campus culture can be created and modified. Developing an attitude that student success matters, setting realistic but high expectations, coordinating disparate efforts, and leading in a way that is never satisfied with present efforts are all strategies that can profoundly shape campus culture. "The Graduation Rate Project adds significant new insight and understanding about student success. Improved graduation rates are possible when there is strong academic leadership and a commitment to student success is integrated into the campus culture," said Constantine W. (Deno) Curris, president, AASCU. "AASCU deserves praise for mobilizing leaders from across the country to take the time and effort to thoughtfully examine the principles and practices at colleges and universities that are successful at graduating students," said Janis Somerville, senior associate at the National Association of University System Heads. NASH, as the organization is known, co-sponsored the study. "This work is helping to redefine what it means to be a 'quality' university. Quality is more than admitting students with ever-higher SAT scores; it clearly is about what institutions themselves do to ensure that students get what they came for -- a degree." "It is enormously heartening to see the leaders of state colleges and universities take a hard look at their role in helping the students they admit succeed academically," said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust, which co-sponsored the study. "One thing is clear from this research: It certainly is within the power of our institutions of higher learning to improve graduation rates. But it takes real commitment from the very top to make it happen." Researchers used College Results Online (, a Web-tool created by the Education Trust to identify 12 colleges and universities with much higher graduation rates than those of similar schools that serve similar student populations. Study teams from AASCU-member institutions around the country then visited those colleges and universities to identify the findings in this report. Six of the 12 study campuses have maintained high graduation rates for a long time, the other six have shown substantial improvements in their graduation rates since 1996. The Graduation Rate Outcomes Project was designed to determine why these institutions were successful and to use this information to help other campus leaders achieve higher performance. This study, conducted by study teams representing more than 90 state colleges and universities, offers strategies for how colleges and universities can improve student success. To receive a copy of the study, contact Heather Berg at AASCU is a higher education association whose membership is comprised of more than 430 colleges, universities and systems of public higher education throughout the United States and its territories.