McPhee: MTSU student success reforms will aid stat...

McPhee: MTSU student success reforms will aid state graduation goals

NASHVILLE — MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee said the Quest for Student Success reforms underway on campus will help the state achieve Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” goal to extend the reach of higher education.

“We decided to turn ourselves into kind of a experiment,” McPhee said during a recent appearance before the editorial board of The Tennessean.

MTSU’s faculty and staff, he said, are “looking at every aspect of how the university operates,” including:

Dr. Sidney A. McPhee

  • Stepping up recruitment of students who have greater potential to succeed at a four-year comprehensive university;
  • Enhancing the academic experience of enrolled students to better ensure their success, including greater tutoring, enhanced advising and an emphasis on more “high-tech and high-touch” approaches;
  • And using more innovative, data-informed best practices to facilitate success.

“As the state began the focus on producing more graduates… we decided we were going to take a leadership role as a campus in finding ways to be more innovative, to be more aggressive in looking at what the institution can do,” McPhee said.

McPhee described the university’s efforts as a “strategic plan, focused on helping the state accomplish the goal of reaching 55 percent of its population with some form of post-secondary education.”

The president also told the newspaper’s editorial board that “we haven’t just come to the table” in adding to the pool of college graduates in the state’s workforce.

McPhee cited figures from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission that showed the number of graduates produced by MTSU during a 10-year period between 1999 and 2009 had increased 65 percent.

That increase, the largest among the state’s universities, coincided with a prolonged period of enrollment growth during the same time period. And, he said, university data shows about 70 percent of MTSU’s 100,000-plus alumni remain in Tennessee.

“Not only have we grown in numbers,” McPhee said, “we have produced graduates for this region in significant numbers. …

“We don’t export talent. When students come to this university, they stay after they graduate and become a part of the solution.”

MTSU WordmarkMcPhee linked the university’s graduation success with its decision several years ago to more closely align with community colleges, particularly nearby Motlow and Nashville State. MTSU stopped teaching remedial courses, he said, and guided students instead to the community colleges for that support.

“We are not competing with the community colleges. We are not competing with the technology centers,” McPhee said. “We want to provide the opportunity for students to be successful at a comprehensive university.”

McPhee said he was “very supportive” of the governor’s proposed Tennessee Promise plan, which would offer ways for certain high school seniors to attend community colleges at no cost.

“In a state that has a low educational attainment rate such as Tennessee, no one can argue against providing greater access,” he said.

McPhee said, however, “we need to keep a close eye” of one element of the proposal: Cutting the lottery scholarship by $1,000 for freshmen and sophomores at four-year schools, then increasing it by $1,000 when they become juniors and seniors.

“Two or three hundred dollars can make a difference in terms of whether a student comes or stays at MTSU,” he said. “Certainly a thousand could be an impact.”

A video of the president’s one-hour appearance before The Tennessean’s board can be viewed here.

Learn more about MTSU’s student success efforts at

— Andrew Oppmann (