ALBUQUERQUE, NM – American universities need to look inward to develop solutions to help more students graduate, a noted educator told an audience of university and government officials from across New Mexico.
“There’s no excuse for sitting on the sidelines, because you can make big changes,” said Timothy Renick, whom Washington Monthly magazine named as one of its 2016 most innovative people in higher education.
Renick, the senior vice-president for student success at Georgia State University, made his comments following a screening of the documentary, “Unlikely,” which follows several students from underserved populations, showing the difficulty each has without the support network many students from middle- and upper-class backgrounds.
“We were over burdening students with all kinds of bureaucratic steps,” Renick said during the May 30 screening. “As we analyzed the steps, we found the ones who were most tripped up were the ones who had the least support system.”
Renick told the audience of approximately 200 people Georgia State University adopted several changes based on more than 800 behaviors of when a student is in danger of dropping out of college, including intensive one-on-one counseling and mentoring and implementing technical solutions such as an artificial intelligence chat system where students can ask questions any time.
“There are new opportunities that should be encouraging to all of us,” Renick said, noting serving students better helps Georgia State financially and contributes to a strong economy based on a more inclusive, educated workforce.
“About 6,000 students were dropping out of Georgia State each year,” Renick said. “It was silent and quiet; they just stopped enrolling.” Because of the Georgia State’s increased student retention and graduation rates, the university is seeing millions of dollars of additional revenue, Renick said, noting that helping students graduate more quickly has saved last year’s graduating class a collective $18 million in additional tuition costs.
New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, who attended the documentary screening at the Flix Brewhouse in Albuquerque, challenged the audience to work together to find solutions to improve the state’s college graduation rates.
“Often times we’re afraid to aim high and miss the mark,” Morales said. “So we aim low and hit the mark.
“I want to focus on the problems and the symptoms. We can do this together,” Morales said.
New Mexico Highlands President Sam Minner, who participated in a panel discussion with the presidents and chancellors from the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, Northern New Mexico College, and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, said he was excited about working with elected and higher education officials to improve education in the state. New Mexico Education Secretary Kate O’Neill and Adam Fenderson, who filmed “Unlikely” with his wife, Jaye, also participated on the panel.
“Too often, we’re stuck in a deficit mode of thinking: you failed because you didn’t try hard enough, you failed because you don’t have the resources,” Minner told the audience. “We need to do away with that thinking.”
Northern New Mexico President Richard Bailey said New Mexico students face a number of challenges in completing a college degree but said strong collaborations can improve the state’s graduation rates.
“For a lot of our students, there is no safety net,” Bailey said, noting a recent survey of Northern New Mexico College students showed 20 percent of the student body reported there was “nobody who loved them.”
“We have to be wiling as a state to start to make investments and long-term decisions,” Bailey said. “We have to recognize we can’t rate institutions on what we can do in six months. We have to look at the long term.”
Adam Fenderson has more than a decade of experience in film and television, with credits that include work produced by NBC, MTV, ABC Family and Discovery. Jaye Fenderson is a former senior admissions officer at Columbia University and launched her career in television in 2004 as the co-creator of ABC’s docudrama “The Scholar.” Her writing has been published in the College Access and Opportunity Guide, among other publications. The documentary will have a limited theatrical release in September, followed by a streaming release. Information on the film is online at unlikelyfilm.com.