The Weekly Blab
Volume 4, Issue 1—October 8, 2009
The Year Begins:
Another academic year begins and SPSU is off to a good start. We’ve gotten the three core engineering programs approved, and hired a batch of faculty to teach in those programs, several of whom will join our faculty in January. We’ve got $100M of major construction taking place on the campus. Jeff Ray’s office seems to be the place to be—there’s a great view of the Building I-2 construction, with the ETC construction and parking deck in the distance. And check out the size of that crane! It would be great to see them hang a basket on it, and give rides from one side of the construction to the other. I’d pay $10 to ride on that. We’ve also gotten word on ABET accreditation—all our ET programs were reaccredited for the maximum, and the IT program was newly accredited.
Budget-wise, things aren’t quite so hot. We’re starting the year with a ca. 5% budget cut, and all pretty much all full-timers have three furlough days to look forward to each semester. The August tax revenues didn’t look so hot (compared to August one year ago), so more cuts may be in the offing. On the more positive side, it is beginning to look like we’re slowly coming out of the recession, so things may pick up. Despite our challenges, we’re better off at SPSU than most.
Issues to Consider: Graduation Rates
One issue that will be looked at closely by the Board of Regents this year is Graduation Rates. Yes, they’re back. Currently, the graduation rate as measured by the USG at SPSU is 29.8%--with rounding, let’s call it 30%. This rate refers to first-time first-year students, and measures what percentage of them graduate from SPSU within six years. If students transfer to another university, they don’t show up in this statistic, even if they graduate. Students who transfer here also don’t count in this statistic. So, the first thing we know is that the way that the USG (and the federal government) measures graduation rates is not particularly apt for us.
Interestingly, it’s actually a small improvement from a few years ago—our graduation rate was about 23% back in 2005. Our current rate puts us 7th from the bottom in the USG, with Columbus State, Armstrong Atlantic, Clayton, Augusta, Macon, and Dalton behind us. There are another five universities in the 32-35% range. The “good” news there is that with a small increase in our graduation rates, we can vault into the top half of the “standings”. The high in the USG is at UGA and Georgia Tech, both in the 77-78% range. Among state university systems, the USG ranks 42nd. Georgia’s high school graduation rate is 49th among the states. So, we’ve got a long way to go.
What’s the reason we’re so low? That’s actually a bad question, in that there is no one reason-- it’s a combination of lots of factors. More research is needed, but here are a few things we know:
All of these are explanations, but do they really apply to us more than other USG schools, and do they apply to us more than they do to our comparator schools? Our graduation rate is 4th from the bottom there, with only University of DC, IUPU-Fort Wayne, and Southern University below us. Michigan Tech has a graduation rate of 65%, and Cal-Poly Pomona has one of 50%.
More on this to come, but I’m curious as to what you all think may be reasons for our low numbers, and what steps you believe we might take to increase our graduation rates. I’ll summarize any responses I get in the next issue of the Blab. A prize of a great jazz CD goes to the best “how to improve graduation rates” suggestion.
Issues to Consider: Academic Integrity
Another issue that has come up a bit lately is our process (or lack thereof) in dealing with academic integrity, both inside and outside the classroom. We all know that students are using more technological means to cheat these days, be they cell phones, pda’s, online paper mills, or whatever. Our current practice is that faculty handle such things individually, which allows (in theory) a student to cheat multiple times and only be subject to minor sanctions, since there is no central collection point that keeps track. The Deans Council has asked the Faculty Senate to consider developing some expanded procedures in this area, and I hope they will do so.
In the meantime, I’ve come across two interesting articles on the subject that I’d like to comment on. The first is “Online Social Culture: Does it Foster Original Work or Encourage Plagiarism?” by Janet Salmons (http://www.vision2lead.com/Originality.pdf). In this paper, Dr. Salmons sees plagiarism as part of a continuum of how original sources are used in subsequent work. Plagiarism (defined as using others’ work, as a whole, without attribution) is the negative end of the scale, followed by Inappropriate Paraphrasing (adapting others’ work without attribution), Misuse of Sources (improper or missing citations), and Uncritical Citing (copying others’ ideas with proper citation, but without analyzing them or synthesizing new ideas). The positive end of the scale is Intertextuality (respectfully building on others’ work to create new ideas, with proper attribution). The term “intertextuality” was coined by Julia Kristeva, a well-known philosopher in the area of critical analysis. I like the idea of looking at plagiarism as part of a continuum—too often we treat it as a much simpler concept than it is, and miss the opportunity to encourage our students towards positive building on others’ work.
The other paper was called “Five Steps to Reduce Cheating” by Mary Bart (in Faculty Focus). She interviews the authors of CHEATING IN SCHOOL: What We Know and What We Can Do, Stephen F. Davis, Patrick F. Drinan, and Tricia Bertram Gallant. They suggest five common sense strategies:
I would add one more strategy:
Again, your thoughts on this matter are welcomed.