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College leaders urged to make personal commitment to student success

College presidents must take a more personal role in changing campus culture to ensure that more students graduate, a group of higher education leaders meeting in Los Angeles were told Monday.

“Presidents focus on the inflow but don’t pay too much attention to what’s happening on the back end,” said Andrew K. Benton, president of Pepperdine University.

The event, presented by Pepperdine and the American Council on Education, drew about 50 attendees including Benton and E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University.

Gee and Benton are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Commission on Higher Education Attainment, created in 2011 at the suggestion of President Obama to explore how college leaders can increase graduation rates.

The commission issued a report last week, calling on college leaders to "frequently and publicly underscore their personal commitment to increasing the number of students who graduate."

While colleges and universities have made great strides in providing access to millions of new students, both traditional and nontraditional, far too little attention has been paid to their success, which squanders time, resources and opportunity, the report warned.

Gee reiterated that theme Monday.

“The loss of human potential in this country is enormous,” he said.

According to the report, state support nationally for higher education fell by 25% since 2008. Funding for California’s three tiers of higher education -- community colleges, California State University and the University of California -- dropped by nearly $1 billion each, forcing class cuts, enrollment declines and steep tuition hikes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers at every level are calling for colleges to do a better job of retaining and graduating students. Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent budget plan boosts education spending and also includes strong incentives and online strategies to help push students toward a degree.

The commission also suggested a number of remedies, including assigning a senior administrator with responsibility for increasing graduation rates, improving remedial education, awarding credit for knowledge and skills obtained outside of the classroom, and gathering better data to track student progress and success.

Some of the commission's ideas, such as systemwide assessment tests and easing the transfer of credits,  already are being implemented in the state's 112 community colleges, noted Chancellor Brice Harris, who was appointed a member of the commission during his tenure as head the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento.

“I sent the report to all of the college presidents today, so the timing is really perfect for us,” Harris said. “If we can’t improve the ability for students to succeed and fulfill their aspirations, we will let an entire generation down and will have an economic and social crisis.”

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-- Carla Rivera

 
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