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Tim Haresign, President

NJ Summit Conference Promotes Student Success

(This Conference occurred after our April 2014 Voice was distributed. We felt it was important to report it in this issue.)

For the first time, state legislators, faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni, and business leaders joined together in one meeting at William Paterson University to discuss and reach agreement on practical solutions to promote student success in higher education.  Sponsored by the William Paterson University AFT Local 1796 and the Faculty Senate, but including representatives from other New Jersey state colleges and universities, the May 16, 2014 Student Success Conference focused on helping students overcome academic, financial and social challenges to graduation, employment and intellectual growth.

Assemblyman Joe Cryan, who introduced more than 20 higher education reform bills this session, and Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Sandra Cunningham led a panel focusing on higher education and public policy. “Our state leaders need to hear from students and alumni about the obstacles to staying in school as well as from those of us in the classrooms and support services who work closely with students every day,” said Dr. Susanna Tardi, Professor of Sociology at William Paterson.

From rising tuition and fees to work and family demands, a panel of students and recent grads talked about the realities of trying to graduate in four years. One nontraditional student tearfully thanked the WPUNJ attendees for all the support she received when returning to school after having left decades ago to care for a sick parent.

The impact of race and class on graduation rates were discussed in detail as William Paterson serves many first generation college students and the children of working families from urban Passaic County. Existing inequities could be further widened if “performance-based-funding” were to be implemented, penalizing schools for lower-graduation rates, according to Dr. Charley Flint from William Paterson’s Sociology department.

Graduation rates serve as an even weaker determinant of performance for schools such as William Paterson and sister schools New Jersey City University and Kean University, all of which serve students from urban populations with large, low-performing school districts. These students are often quite capable of excellent performance, but require more in-depth advisement and academic support to compensate for initial shortcomings, according to Luis Escobar, of William Paterson’s Academic Support Center.

"Having a working relationship with university management and true shared governance is critical to cultivating the environment for student success" stated Dr. Donna Fengya (William Paterson’s Math Department). She chaired a panel with William Paterson Provost and Executive Vice President Warren Sandmann who also decried the lack of state institutional support for higher education.

Vincent Vicari (Rutgers University’s Small Business Development Center and Adjunct Faculty at WPUNJ) said employers are looking for graduates with problem solving skills and the ability to continue learning and adapting to the changing economy. The business owners  and leaders on his panel discussed the range of hard and soft skills they look for in new hires.

One of the outcomes of the conference was a recognition that student success means different things to different people and that effective solutions to promote student success need to be flexible enough to address a wide range of circumstances.

“First and foremost, our students need to be able to achieve in their chosen vocations and develop the skills to reach their full potential to learn, explore, and create,” said Tardi.  “Higher education should be about more than just graduation rates or job placements,” she added.

For more photos go here.