Student retention, persistence and success in higher education were the focus when higher education leaders met May 25 at the University of Tennessee at Martin for the second Skyhawk Regional Retention Summit. A total of 31 colleges and universities representing private and public two- and four-year institutions from Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois and Alabama gathered in the Boling University Center for the daylong event. A pre-summit meeting for academic and student affairs officers was held Tuesday to discuss the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on colleges and universities.
The first summit was held in 2019 and planned as an annual event, but the summit was canceled the past two years because of the pandemic. This year’s summit attracted more than 190 attendees. Speakers included University of Tennessee System President Randy Boyd and UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver. Dr. Emily House, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, was the keynote speaker.
Topics covered throughout the day during concurrent discussion sessions included promoting equity and inclusion in teaching and learning inside and outside of the classroom; leveraging innovative course delivery models to promote retention and persistence to graduation; early warning systems for identifying students in trouble academically, socially and emotionally; and how new data and technology solutions contribute to increasing persistence to graduation.
Baumgardner quoted an uncle who championed student success as a principal and encouraged other educators by often saying, “In order to reach the students we have not yet reached, we will need to do the things that we’ve not yet done.”
Dr. Philip Acree Cavalier, UT Martin provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, and Dr. Brad Baumgardner, the university’s retention director, led the closing session and recapped the summit. Baumgardner quoted an uncle who championed student success as a principal and encouraged other educators by often saying, “In order to reach the students we have not yet reached, we will need to do the things that we’ve not yet done.” Baumgardner said this approach reminds everyone to take the steps necessary for breaking down barriers that include access information and communication.
Cavalier noted the importance of mentoring and the power that mentors can have on student success. “I’m not sure that anyone doubted that mentoring is powerful,” he said. “But it is something that I think if we’re not doing, whether it’s peer or other kinds of mentoring, then we’re losing an opportunity to help students.” He also highlighted an earlier presentation that covered strategies to increase the persistence and success for men of color and other student subgroups where retention challenges exist.
“And if I can take away anything from the conference other than those great ideas that you shared … it’s to constantly remember that everything that we’re doing is for the students, and those numbers do represent students, every single one of them.”
Baumgardner closed by saying that student data is important to monitor as it relates to retention, but data indicates much more. Incremental retention gains mean that student lives have been changed, and he issued a challenge to summit participants. “So, while those numbers may be eye-crossing at times, I challenge us all to look at those numbers and remember that they directly represent our student populations and that even incremental gains represent students that have access to higher education because of the things that we’re doing,” he said. “And if I can take away anything from the conference other than those great ideas that you shared … it’s to constantly remember that everything that we’re doing is for the students, and those numbers do represent students, every single one of them.”
Following the closing session, Cavalier said that the summit drew positive reactions from participants, and he was pleased with the results. “So, I heard repeatedly from people – and I mean a lot of people came up to tell me how much they had learned by talking with people from other universities or colleges, and that’s the whole point. It’s not a bunch of sages on the stage,” he said.
The summit is tentatively set to return for its third year in May 2023 before Memorial Day. For more information about the summit, call the UT Martin Office of Academic Affairs at 731-881-7010.