Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faculty Senate Responds

In case some people didn't know, the Faculty Senate formally responded to the Washington Monthly article from August regarding the misinformation about CSU's graduation rates. Below is the Senate's letter.

Washington Monthly Editors,

This is a formal response of the Faculty Senate at Chicago State University to the article "College Dropout Factories" of August 22nd 2010. While replete with "evidence" and "facts," much of this article is little more than an intellectually lazy hit-piece parading as a well-researched journalistic endeavor.

There are many important caveats to the information presented in the article: First, the graduation rate cited is biased in favor of traditional, residential universities. It works like this: a student enrolls in a university her/his first semester in college then remains at that university until graduation. For most residential universities, the full-time students constitute better than 95 percent of the student population. At Chicago State University (CSU), most students are commuters and better than one-third of the undergraduates attend part-time. There is only one dormitory on campus. As a result, the full-time first-time freshmen measured in the graduation rate constituted roughly eight percent of the school's undergraduates from 2004 through 2007.

Thus, CSU's graduation rate is based on fewer than one-twelfth of its undergraduate population. This school, unlike the other public universities you offered for comparison, serves mainly transfer students. Unfortunately, the graduation rate gives no university credit for transfer students completing their courses of study. A student who enrolls for one semester or quarter at another college, then transfers and graduates from Chicago State is simply not counted. Chicago State receives no credit for that student's graduation. In actuality, Chicago state granted more than 640 undergraduate degrees per year from 2004-2007, a graduation rate versus the full-time student population of 19.5 percent. In comparison, during a similar time period, the University of Michigan graduated its full-time students at a rate of 24.3 percent. Less than five percentage points separates CSU from the University of Michigan yet nowhere is such an analysis provided in the article.

Second, the student you profiled to demonstrate the problems with CSU was identified as a pre-engineering student and that he transferred to another institution. As CSU only houses a pre-engineering program, all pre-engineering students must transfer to other institutions in order to receive bachelor degrees in engineering. That student and any other student in the pre-engineering program would not have been counted in CSU's graduation rate! This was omitted from the article. Interestingly, the article highlights that faculty members were those who were responsible for providing the support to the student to ensure his future success. There was no mention that CSU admitted a student that did not gain entrance into a "selective" university due to attending a high school that, "didn’t provide much in the way of college guidance," yet prepared him sufficiently to successfully transfer to a "selective" environment. Certainly, this betrays the notion of a dropout factory.

Third, the article failed to incorporate any mention of initiatives undertaken in the 2009-2010 academic year at CSU to address retention and graduation of first-year full-time freshman. For example, the Office of the Freshman Year Experience was created to be a student-centered support mechanism that provides advising, mentoring, and study support. For the 2010-2011 academic year a cohort model of course scheduling has been incorporated. This model is derived from research that suggests that retention increases when students gain a sense of greater collegiality that develops through shared scholarly and social experiences. The Dean of the Office of the Freshman Year Experience maintains regular contact with all of the first-time first-year Freshman. Clearly, this shows an interest in improving student outcomes. While other universities were profiled that showed efforts to improve outcomes, CSU's efforts were not detailed.

Noting these caveats is not to deny that CSU has problems. The graduation of first-year full-time students must improve. There are problems at CSU. However, this intellectually dishonest article provides a false picture of how the school performs. At the least the writers should have defined how graduation rates are calculated. Had they bothered to look beyond their own biases, they might have found a school that, although deserving of criticism in a variety of areas, hardly qualifies as a "dropout factory." Had the writers interviewed more than one student, you likely would have found accolades moreso than disparagement.

In service,

Yan Dominic Searcy, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
CSU Faculty Senate President

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