Promoting and celebrating student success
As graduation approaches, we see a notable uptick in campus activity, with term papers nearing completion and preparations for finals by both faculty and students. Recently, I was fortunate to help two honors students by serving on their thesis committees (honors theses need to be completed much earlier than other end-of-semester assignments).
I served on honors student committees for Lindsay Mullineaux and Morgan Mitchell, both in my home department of anthropology. Their theses underscored the abilities of our students, with Ms. Mullineaux investigating the complex story of how DNA evidence figures into court cases, and with Ms. Mitchell addressing skeletal evidence of trauma in prehistoric and early historic populations. It was a pleasure to contribute their successes, and we are confident that what they learned will help them succeed in the future.
Fostering the success of our students is at the very core of our mission. The College of Arts and Sciences strives to provide our students with opportunities for success. In fact, our very structure, with about 80 units dedicated to academic pursuits, is oriented to helping students find their intellectual strengths and passions. Our departments and programs are strongly supported by a range of centers and initiatives to help achieve this aim. Of course, a dedicated and highly accomplished faculty is the backbone of these efforts.
The great value that we attach to student achievement requires that we take determined steps to ensure continued success. Several foundational pieces to ensuring success have been in place for many years. These begin with careful attention to the mission of a liberal arts education, which seeks to provide opportunities for our students to develop a wide range of capacities for independent and critical thinking.
Ideally, such an education confers flexibility for careers that may involve many different facets and, in fact, gives students the capacity to thrive in areas that do not yet exist as defined careers. My interactions with business leaders invariably reveal that employers strongly desire employees who communicate well and think critically. We have excelled in developing courses and curricula that help students hone these capabilities, preparing them for a diversity of pursuits.
There are a number of new obstacles that universities like CU-Boulder must face in maintaining the foundations for student success. An increasingly important aspect of ensuring student success concerns focused attention to the university’s core mission. This issue is front and center, as costs of education continue to rise in the face of declining state funding and, now, increasing competition from online educational ventures.
One important result has been that universities find it increasingly difficult to conduct activities that extend beyond their campuses: Concentrating on core missions, notably research and teaching, has become increasingly important. Fortunately, these efforts represent direct investments in our students. On the other hand, this refocusing of resources can come at the cost of diminished impact, interaction and service to communities, regions and states.
A related area that requires vigilance in ensuring student success concerns the costs of education. Contemporary universities, campuses, colleges and departments must make every attempt to contain costs. We are obligated to identify and address redundancies in curricula and courses. We need to look carefully at how technology is deployed, both in the classroom and in advising. We should continue to work toward teaching classes with an eye toward promoting student success in learning.
Our new circumstances force us to depart substantially from the ways that we have thought about costs, traditionally concentrating almost solely on class sizes. At CU-Boulder, we may have reached limits in terms of adjusting class sizes to address costs. We have to look at other aspects of our mission to make further progress on reducing costs, particularly course and curricular redundancy and overlap. It will be important for us to consider avenues for student success while balancing costs of education.
There will soon be literally thousands of opportunities to appreciate the successes of our students in the form of graduation ceremonies. Graduation is an important event, marking one of life’s major transitions. It reflects many years of dedication to learning and understanding, preparing young adults for a lifetime of learning and critical thought. It provides one of our clearest measures of success.
I encourage us all to appreciate the accomplishments of our graduating students, and reflect on the many successes through their years at CU. I also encourage our entire community to participate in these important ceremonies, acknowledging the efforts of students, faculty and staff in reaching this important career milestone.
Steven R. Leigh