Nevada State College will participate in a national pilot program that officials say will help improve the college’s first-year student retention rate and graduation numbers.
Historically, an average of 65 percent of first-year students at the Henderson school return the following year, said NSC Provost Erika Beck. Officials hope to increase that rate by at least 1 percent every year.
The average first-year retention rate for colleges across the country that serve similar student populations — first-generation students — is 58 percent, Beck said. Even though NSC is slightly above the national average, officials don’t see it as a reason to celebrate.
“There’s more work to do,” Beck said late Thursday afternoon. “We won’t be satisfied until we get closer to 100 percent.”
NSC is one of 12 colleges and universities across the country selected for a three-year pilot program, Gardner Institute’s Gateways to Completion. Through the program, the college will choose five of the most challenging “gateway courses,” which have high failure rates, and transform them in a way that will improve student performance by using data on what works and what doesn’t.
The gateway courses are basic classes students need to take to advance in their field of study or complete their degree, said John Gardner, president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence, which seeks to improve undergraduate education and is based in North Carolina.
“You can teach students to love gateway courses,” Gardner told faculty and staff at Nevada State College during a meeting late Thursday afternoon, the first of many he will have at the college.
Gardner will work with NSC faculty, staff and administration over the three-year period. This is the most rigorous project the institute has undertaken in its 14-year history, he said.
“It takes some courage to do this — to be critical with what you are doing,” Gardner said of NSC’s willingness to take part in the pilot program.
But the participation won’t be cheap.
It will cost NSC $28,500 for each of the three years.
NSC officials also hope that changes made as part of the program will help bump up the college’s graduation numbers, Beck said. In 2012-13, the college had 302 graduates, compared to 272 in the 2011-12 school year.
In 2010-11, it graduated 262 students.
The college aims to reach an annual number of graduates of 462 by 2019-2020, according to Sandip Thanki, director of Institutional Research at NSC.
“This is an experimental incubator,” said Gardner of NSC.
NSC officials understand that changes won’t happen overnight, and that this type of work takes time.
“We don’t want the quick fix,” Beck said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at 702-383-0440, or firstname.lastname@example.org.