August 10, 2007

UA faculty, staff host national speaker on student success

For Immediate Release
Friday, Aug. 10, 2007

The University of Alaska's statewide faculty and staff organizations are teaming up to host two days of seminars, lectures and workshops with a nationally recognized champion of student success in American colleges and universities.

George Kuh, chancellor's professor of higher education at Indiana University Bloomington and co-author of "Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter," will present a public seminar at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15, in the Carol Brown Ballroom at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Wood Center. The public is invited.  The lecture also will be available via the Web on Aug. 16 at

Kuh believes that as many as four-fifths of high school graduates will need some form of postsecondary education if they are to become self-sufficient and the nation is to be economically competitive. Many students face challenges, however, such as financial difficulties, college readiness and lack of family support.

Yet, as Kuh notes in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, ". . . surprisingly little attention focuses on what higher-education institutions can do to help students survive and thrive in college."

During his Fairbanks visit, Kuh will share lessons learned from his studies of successful colleges and his experience as director of the National Survey of Student Engagement, an annual project in which about 1,100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada have participated. He will talk about how student success is defined, practices that foster student success and what the University of Alaska can do to improve teaching, learning and student engagement.

Consultation with experts is necessary, said Shirish Patil, a petroleum engineering professor at UAF and previous chair of Faculty Alliance. "Before the University of Alaska can make systemic changes, we need to learn more about ourselves, which includes defining what student success means," Patil said. "Many of our students don't come here for a four-year degree, but rather short-term workforce training. Many also attend part-time for years while working jobs and raising families. When they get their degree, they are a success."

Staff members who work with students in areas such as athletics, libraries, housing, financial aid, health clinics or other support services are also integral to helping students achieve their goals, said Jeff Stepp, UAF student activities coordinator and chair of Staff Alliance.

"A student's college experience isn't just with the professor, inside a classroom. All staff who interact with students can positively influence that student's performance," Stepp said.  "That's why our staff group is completely on board with this effort."

"Successful completion of postsecondary education-from a skill endorsement to an apprenticeship program to a certificate or degree-will lead to significantly higher earnings and overall improvement in quality of life," said UA President Mark Hamilton,  "that's just a fact that has been well proven over time. The university is committed to helping students- the ones we have today, and those who will come in the future-achieve their dreams for a better life by providing a successful educational foundation.   We can do better, and we will."

Kuh's visit follows a similar one by Vince Tinto of Syracuse University, who chairs the higher education program within the university's School of Education. Tinto met with UA faculty and staff across the system in March to share what he's learned after years of researching student persistence and success in college.

In addition to the public lecture Wednesday night, Kuh will conduct two student success workshops the following day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Carol Brown Ballroom. While geared to university faculty and staff, the workshops are open to all. Kuh also will meet with Hamilton's executive staff, including Chancellors Fran Ulmer of Anchorage, Steve Jones of Fairbanks and John Pugh of Juneau.

Kuh's visit is funded by a grant through the University of Alaska Foundation from donations made by BP and ConocoPhillips. For more information, call Jeff Stepp at 474-6026 or Shirish Patil at 474-5127.