Turning Lessons Learned into Action

By Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski
Associate Provost: High Impact Programs & Faculty Development

Aug. 21, 2017

During the 2016-17 academic year, Weber State hosted four experts in higher education as part of the Promoting Student Success Lecture Series. Although the content from each presenter was unique, the messages often intersected and reinforced one another.

In the end, key takeaways emerged that have been instructive for shaping Weber State’s approach to cultivating student success.

Lesson 1: Create a culture that recognizes student success is everybody’s business.

From maintaining a beautiful and accessible campus to providing welcoming and engaging learning environments in and out of the classroom to advising and guiding academic, career and personal development, the responsibility for student success rests with every member of our campus community.

Series speakers encouraged us to share and reinforce a consistent vision and common language backed up with resources and actions to build a culture of student success. They reminded us not to let excuses, policies or organizational memory get in the way and to hire and develop faculty and staff with a passion for student engagement if we want to sustain a culture of student success.

Informed Action

A student success committee structure involving staff, faculty, administrators and students from across the university has been developed to coordinate initiatives and guide and foster a culture of student success.  

We invite you to join one of the action-oriented working teams or take other steps within your department, unit or division to help promote student success at Weber State University.

Lesson 2: Focus on data-informed decision-making.

Each speaker in the series urged us to dig into the data to determine what barriers are preventing student success and what experiences positively correlate with promoting it. We were encouraged to start with identifying the barriers causing the most negative impacts on the largest number of students so the data could inform decisions about removing these barriers.

Informed Action

The Strategic Enrollment Plan (SEP) process provided an excellent opportunity to dig deep into the data on retention of WSU students. We learned that about 1 out of every 2 first-time students to WSU won’t return the following fall, and we have few processes in place to learn why not.  

We have developed a virtual Unaccounted For Contact Center to track students who have not re-enrolled at WSU from the previous semester to learn why not and help them re-enroll if that is what is most appropriate.     

Lesson 3: Become even more student focused.

Although one of WSU’s greatest assets is our student-centric approach, speakers encouraged us to re-examine our programs and practices to ensure student success is the focus of each. They challenged us with questions like:

  • Is general education designed to prepare students for big questions they will be asked to solve in their careers and communities? 
  • Do we provide clear and guided paths to graduation and career?  
  • Are we expecting our students to succeed? If so, are our programs and services designed to communicate this expectation?
  • Does student success drive the teaching strategies we choose to employ?

Informed Action  

New general education learning outcomes have been approved, and efforts are underway to connect learning across general education classes around big questions.

Funding was secured to hire seven new advisors to help provide guided pathways to graduation for more WSU students.

A new software tool, Hobsons Starfish, was purchased to chart students’ progress and help communicate the expectation they succeed.

The Teaching and Learning Forum is facilitating faculty-driven “Communities of Practice,” focusing on evidence-based teaching practices that promote student success.  

Takeaway: Weber State is on the right track and committed to the long haul.

Although our speakers focused on the work still needing to be done, they confirmed WSU is on the right course and aligned with national trends.

Our use of predictive analytics, our commitment to addressing the "attainment gap," and the importance of personal contact in our work with students (mentoring, coaching, proactive advising) are the right first steps in our student success journey.

Do you have questions or comments about this article? Please contact Brenda Marsteller Kowalewski at bkowalewski@weber.edu.