San Jose State University (SJSU) is working to boost its graduation rate by talking to students about the factors holding them back from success, Gabrielle Emanuel reports for NPR.
Just 10% of students graduate from SJSU in four years, and slightly more than half graduate in six years. Marcos Pizarro, a professor of Mexican-American studies, found the four-year graduation rates were even worse for minority students, at 4.5% for Latino students and only a bit better for black students.
The problem, he realized, stemmed in part from the fact that SJSU never asked students what prevented them from graduating on time. Pizarro and colleagues received a grant to call hundreds of students who had dropped out of SJSU, focusing on Latino and black students.
The faculty members found that many students had faced institutional barriers while at SJSU, like being unable to take certain classes or meet with advisers. Students also struggled to feel connected to the campus community.
Pizarro created an on-campus group to foster a sense of community among students and help them deal with their issues. He hosts functions such as Pozole Night, during which students can study and meet with faculty members, counselors, and tutors over a bowl of traditional Mexican soup.
"If they had somebody to go to, the crisis doesn't go away, but how you handle the crisis and continue to go to school can be addressed," Pizarro says.
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Provost Andy Feinstein was amazed by the efforts geared toward Latino and black students and vowed to address persistence issues affecting the entire campus community. According to Feinstein, SJSU will be spending about $2.8 million to provide students with an additional 500 classes. The university is also working with local K-12 schools and aims to make a summer remediation program more accessible to students. In addition, Feinstein wants to decrease the ratio of advisers to students to 1 per 600 (Emanuel,"nprED," NPR, 5/28).
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