15:20 PM

Student Success From a Broader Perspective

The Lessons of COVID-19 and More


By Marie Jacinto

The final President’s Lecture Series for the 2022-23 academic year was titled “A Conversation on Building a Holistic Approach to Student Success,” but, in reality, the conversation was both broader and deeper than the title implied. Equipped with the latest data, Dr. Harrison Keller, Commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, shared how COVID-19 had changed higher education and the state’s economic engine, while UHD President Loren J. Blanchard spoke to the intense work being done at UHD to enhance student success. UHD’s incoming Vice President of Student Success and Student Life, Dr. Dakota Doman, moderated the conversation (watch entire video below).

The state’s previous higher education strategic plan, Building a Talent Strong Texas, was focused on access for traditional students. But the pandemic taught the Coordinating Board new lessons: a refresh of the plan was necessary to expand its scope to include Texans up to age 64, as the workforce landscape had changed.

Keller pointed out that the perennial question remains: Is college really worth it? Is there value in higher education? “Data projections show that by 2030 more than 60% of all jobs in Texas will require some type of education beyond high school,” said Keller. “And 92% of new jobs will require higher education. Higher education is the tip of the spear for driving opportunities in our state.”

Blanchard spoke to the “generational effect.” “Think of the economic impact on families when 70% of UHD first-time-in-college students are first generation, and 70% live below the poverty line,” said Blanchard. “Look at all the other outcomes: better health, for example. And your children are much more likely to attend college because you have. That degree promotes much more than just professional growth. That degree impacts your family, your city, your state, your country.”

“Regional comprehensive universities are in the vanguard and where higher education needs to go in Texas,” said Keller, adding, “There is an urgent need to engage many more people from diverse backgrounds.” He believes that UHD meets students where they are. “I can feel the drive here, and I am impressed by the work and direction of UHD leadership.”

The silver lining from COVID-19 was that it accelerated innovation, noted Keller. “Governor Abbot committed funding for student financial aid by $200 million and $100 million for accelerating innovation on our campuses. I was delighted that UHD was among the institutions in the cohort for student success.”

With a student success roadmap in hand, UHD has changed its advisement approach and created degree maps, commented Blanchard. “Before, UHD didn’t have consistent degree plans. Now every single degree program has a map,” said Blanchard. “Furthermore, the recent ECMC Foundation grant for the Gator Success Institute will help provide more systematic support for first-generation students.”

Keller was emphatic that the state’s vision is not to water down standards but to raise the bar and to hold students accountable with understanding and compassion. Blanchard said, “Knowing you are valued goes hand in glove with accountability. A sense of connectedness, such as working in the community, provides that.”

Blanchard outlined UHD’s goals for student success: 

  • Academic preparation.
  • Enrollment management, specifically courses offered when they need to be offered.
  • Engagement, well-being, and connectedness.
  • Removal of administrative barriers.
  • Financial support for basic needs.

“Student success is such a passion of mine,” said Blanchard. “We are instilling a ‘champion mindset’ in the advisor-student relationship to ensure our students don’t fall astray.” 

With a strategic plan, a case management approach to advisement, solid degree maps, and the groundwork for the Gator Success Institute in place, UHD is well on its way to ensuring the success of every student. And that’s something we can all champion.