New Initiative Focuses on Student Success

New Initiative Focuses on Student Success

One of the benefits of an institution is the ability to take ideas and turn them into policy. This formalization of wishes and desires can lead to major accomplishments that affect many people. A good example of this is the Constitution of the United States, which has affected not only the millions who live here, but billions around the world. It started out as an idea by a few men struggling to declare their rights under a governmental system of tyranny, but by making their idea into policy, the actions of a few men changed the world.

Southwestern Adventist University’s administration, faculty and staff have been concerned about student success for a long time. They have also been concerned with the perception by some people who don’t really know the University that we are soft on academics. That concern has turned into something a little more formal. It’s called the Success Initiative.

The Success Initiative is the brainchild of Ben McArthur, vice president for academic administration. McArthur explains that the Initiative has two challenges before it: perception, expectations and culture.

How We Are Viewed

“Southwestern is a small school,” says McArthur. “We’re not in a position to compete with larger schools in all of our programs. We want to be the best at something that makes us unique. We have to persuade potential students and their parents that we offer value that you don’t find at Union, or TCU, or UT Austin, or Southern.”
What is that value? The Success Initiative Taskforce is working to position Southwestern to be the best school to prepare student to be successful in life. This goes beyond just helping students get jobs once they graduate, although that is part of it. It includes focusing on their academic, emotional and spiritual growth.

“We are working to get students to spiritual and academic maturity,” says Keith Grey, vice president for enrollment.

“What does it mean to be a successful person?” asks McArthur. “It means being a mature adult. Students who come here will be preparing for life, not just a career. We want our entire faculty and staff to engage students in adult conversations, including the nature of professionalism, moral reasoning, health issues, and things as simple but important as going to class.”

McArthur says a large part of this has to do with expectations, both those of students and their parents, and the expectations of the faculty themselves. “We want a more powerful, engaging education,” says McArthur.

The first step of this happened this Fall as incoming freshmen were welcomed onto campus. The annual introductory meetings, held before classes start and traditionally called Cricket Camp, have been renamed to be consistent with the new attitude. They are called CORE, something that McArthur believes will help Southwestern establish a “very clear identity.”

CORE stands for Character, Opportunity, Responsibility and Eternity. The new name was coined by Dean of Men James The. Character is described as the mark of a person of integrity and commitment. Opportunity is the act of taking full advantage of what the college offers. Responsibility is willingly accepting the obligations of life. Eternity is pursuing a successful life, according to God’s definition.

What Southwestern Expects of Students

“We all live our lives through expectations,” McArthur says. “Students have endured expectations since childhood, from their parents, friends and themselves. Sometimes these can be burdensome. But they are also essential, for without them one lacks clarity of purpose. Southwestern has a series of expectations for students during their time here.”

The first expectation is that students will be successful academically, whether learning has always come easily or whether they have had academic struggles. Southwestern has tutoring in basic academic skills of math and English, has courses designed to nurture necessary academic tools, and features a faculty with the mission of helping students learn.

“Southwestern Adventist University exists for the sole purpose of preparing students for a successful life and for eternity,” says McArthur. “We take student success very seriously.”

The second expectation is that students work hard and work carefully. McArthur clarifies that this is not the same as saying students should spend all their time studying. What it does mean is that students should devote the time necessary to complete their studies at a reasonably high level. Education is more than a means of gaining a diploma.

“Diplomas don’t win jobs. Skills do,” says McArthur. “Students are expected to work diligently and attend to their assignments carefully because they care about the sort of person they are. By virtue of attending Southwestern, a student is making the statement that he or she values personal growth and has ambitions for his or her life.”

The third expectation is that students will attend every class, arriving on time and leaving only at its conclusion. Exceptions to this come only through illness, family crisis, or approved university obligation. This is based on the concept that a mark of successful people is their reliability and discipline. Employers want individuals who show up and don’t make excuses.

The fourth expectation is that the student will be a person of integrity. Integrity is an essential quality for a fulfilling Christian life. Being a person of integrity means that a student’s values and behavior match. In terms of college life, matters of integrity most often arise when temptations toward plagiarism or other forms of cheating appear. No grade is worth a student compromising his or her character.

The fifth expectation is that students understand that true happiness in life comes from setting meaningful goals and working hard to achieve them. A big part of college life is identifying those goals and their significance to the student. It’s also important to resist the many distractions that may be exciting at the time, but impede students from accomplishing their goal.

The sixth expectation is that students will give religion courses and spiritual life programs an attentive hearing. “Students have come to a point in life where they must independently make important decisions about spiritual commitment,” says McArthur. “Some may choose not to follow a Christian life or remain in the community of Adventism. But while they are students here, we ask that they respect the guiding principles and level of involvement requested. This means that they will work hard in the religion classes, attend residence hall worships, vespers, religious assemblies, and church without complaint.”

The seventh expectation of students is that they will enjoy college life at Southwestern. This can’t be required, but the ability to enjoy college years in Keene is largely within the power of the student. And Southwestern gives students many opportunities to enjoy life here.

What Students Can Expect from Southwestern

According to the Success Initiative, students coming to Southwestern can expect four things:

First, students can expect Southwestern to provide them with a college education of a high order. Although students aren’t guaranteed that every class will be equally stimulating, it does mean that when students gain critical perspective on their education, they will conclude that their instruction was rigorous, pertinent and enticing.

Second, students can expect Southwestern to nurture their spiritual growth. Southwestern assumes that students chose to attend here partly out of a desire to foster their Christian walk, and intends to fulfill this expectation through its variety of religion courses, spiritual programming, and mission service opportunities. Further, this model of Christian educational life is the goal for every class.

Third, students can expect Southwestern to provide a campus environment that is safe and residential housing that is comfortable and conducive to study. Virtually every study of higher education overwhelmingly shows that students who live on campus have a richer college experience than those who do not.
Fourth, students can expect that in their dealings with University personnel they will receive both respect and eagerness to help them.

Changing the Way People Think

The biggest challenge in this endeavor comes with attempting to change organizational culture. Fortunately, the faculty and staff have long recognized the need for change. The Southwestern culture goes beyond the unspoken mores that are expected in Keene. It goes to a set of habits and dispositions that students will learn from, and take with them when they graduate.

“We are looking for a campus culture palpably dedicated to student success. We are looking for unity, not uniformity,” says McArthur. “The Success Initiative gives us a set of priorities and a determination that we intend to keep before students’ eyes.”

“We’re concerned with everything a student takes from here,” says McArthur. “There isn’t ‘college’ and then ‘real life.’ Your day-to-day experience as a college student is just as real as anything he or she will later confront. In most regards, the essential demands of daily college life are what they will always face. What successful life requires of them now is pretty much what it will demand when they are 40.”

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