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Student success, retention keys for WKU’s future, Ransdell says

Students on both ends of the quality spectrum – high achievers and those who could be high achievers but need help – hold the keys for WKU’s future, President Gary Ransdell says.

WKU President Gary Ransdell spoke to faculty and staff at the 2011 opening convocation on Aug. 22 at Van Meter Hall. (WKU photo by Clinton Lewis)

In his annual opening address to faculty and staff on Monday morning at Van Meter Hall, Dr. Ransdell highlighted the successes of the past year and goals for the new year, but he emphasized the need to improve student success and retention. (More: President’s remarks and award recipients)

“Leadership starts with us,” he said. “The Spirit we expect our students to embrace starts with us. Some leaders are born, but most are made. They are made here on this campus, and not by accident.

“Let’s re-dedicate ourselves to building this campus community, to helping our students succeed and to ensuring a high level of quality in that pursuit. If we do those things, we will improve our campus standing as an institution and our own financial strength. We will also achieve a broad range of documented measures which validate our vision to be a leading American university with international reach.”

Dr. Ransdell spotlighted two high-achieving students from two programs – the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science and the WKU Honors College – that are validating that vision, experiencing the value of internationalization and strengthening WKU’s academic reputation.

Sarah Schrader of Bowling Green graduated from the Gatton Academy in May, received a U.S. Presidential Scholarship and a Barry Goldwater Scholarship and had scholarship offers from Princeton and MIT. But she chose to continue her education at WKU because of the Honors College and because she was part of the Chinese Flagship Program.

Aric Johnson of Bowling Green, an Honors College student who is majoring in biology with a pre-medicine concentration and holds a 4.0 grade point average, will be leaving soon to live in Scotland and study for a year at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Neuroregeneration on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship.

Dr. Ransdell also encouraged WKU faculty to identify more students to apply for national prestigious scholarship programs. “An institution of this size and quality should have dozens of applications every year for Fulbrights and all these other awards,” he said.

At the other end of the quality spectrum, Dr. Ransdell said WKU must improve its retention efforts and increase the number of college graduates entering Kentucky’s workforce.

Provost Gordon Emslie has appointed a task force to address how WKU will “rally for retention,” Dr. Ransdell said.  The task force will focus on four areas: getting students in, getting students through, keeping students around and getting students out.

“We have to do all we can to help students who we accept to actually graduate,” Dr. Ransdell said. “Not only is addressing this problem the right thing to do, it is also in our financial best interest. The cost of attrition, that is the amount of money spent to educate first-year undergraduates who do not begin a second year, is significant.”

At WKU, that cost last year was $8.5 million, he said.

For the past 14 years, WKU has focused its enrollment growth energies on recruiting new students, but “I challenge you today to help achieve enrollment growth through the retention of more students who are already enrolled,” Dr. Ransdell said.

“We need to act with resolve and commitment to delivering on results that matter – just like we expect our students to do for us. Effort and attitude are everything. It is kind of like boiling water. At 211 degrees, water is just hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. There is a big difference between hot water and boiling water, one more degree makes all the difference in the world.”

Contact: Public Affairs, (270) 745-5428.

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