Student success expert urges putting classroom fir...

Student success expert urges putting classroom first at MTSU summit

The keynote speaker at MTSU’s summit on university student retention encouraged attendees to make the classroom their top priority.

Dr. Vincent Tinto

“The point of retention is learning,” Dr. Vincent Tinto, distinguished professor emeritus of sociology at Syracuse University, told about 400 higher-education professionals at the Best Practices for Student Success, Inclusion and Retention Summit in the MTSU Student Union Building Feb. 28.

“It’s not about retention, per se,” said Tinto. “It’s about retention as a vehicle for learning. If we don’t succeed there, what have we done?”

Tinto promoted a four-point strategy of providing students with clear expectations, academic and social support, assessment and feedback and engaging students to interact with other students.

He emphasized, however, that higher retention numbers need not be achieved through a reduction in academic rigor or quality.

“We have to construct classrooms so students have high expectations,” Tinto said. “No one rises to low expectations.”

Tinto book cover webTinto’s latest book, “Completing College — Rethinking Institutional Action,” describes a range of programs that have helped universities promote student success and policies for implementing those programs.

Winner of the 2012 Walter O. Mason Award from the Council of Educational Opportunity for his work on the retention of low-income students, Tinto has written extensively about the impact of learning communities on student growth and attainment.

In setting the stage for Tinto’s address, Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan cited the Tennessee Complete College Act and Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Drive to 55” program in explaining that the higher education climate must change.

Saying that colleges’ approach to the issue must be “hands-on, high-touch and high-tech,” Morgan said universities must do a better job of keeping students of color, low-income students and first-generation college students from dropping out.

Dr. Sidney A. McPhee, MTSU’s president, referenced Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” as what colleges and universities must avoid.

“We in higher education can’t be regarded as practicing that definition,” said McPhee. “The external factors have said, ‘Enough! This is what we expect from you!”

Nearly 40 presentations, including 25 workshops, were scheduled. Topics included technology, adult learners, peer mentoring, internships, distance learning and freshman involvement. A panel of students offered ideas during the lunch hour.

The Best Practices summit is sponsored by the Tennessee Board of Regents, MTSU, the June Anderson Center, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, the Intercultural and Diversity Affairs Center, the Career Development Center, the MTSU University College and the University of Memphis Office of Adult and Commuter Student Services.

— Gina K. Logue (