Education Dive reported recently that South Dakota’s Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) has been doing very well in the areas of graduation and retention rates. Currently, they have a 74 percent degree completion rate, an 80 percent retention rate and a 99 percent postgraduate job placement success. “LATI joined Broward College and Indian River as the nation’s top three two-year and technical institutions in the excellence awards.” The graduation rate of lower income students five years ago was about eight percent less than their peers, but now, LATI President Mike Cartney says, “our low-income students are performing better than their counterparts with different economic circumstances.”
Cartney attributes their success to focusing on the lower income students as well as different job placement metrics. LATI relates school to the real world. Cartney and his staff help students see viable job options that are available with specific degrees. Students are motivated to stay in school and on the path to graduation when they can see realistic ways that a degree can influence their lives.
Says Cartney, “we offered services to everyone knowing that preponderance of the benefit would go to low-income students. People whose lives have been more of a challenge already feel like an underdog when they come into the learning or training environment. So we worked to empower them in all aspects of their experience.”
Another secret to LATI’s heightened success, Cartney explains, is the fact that students know without a doubt that they are being heard and cared about. People, in general, just want to feel like they are being heard, and students are no different. “If you aren’t talking about their challenges, their goals and their vision for success, it can be translated into a belief that we as faculty and staff do not care about their individual success.”
Another type of institution that is doing very well is the HBCU. An HBCU is defined as a historically black college or university. U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne explains that HBCUs “provide opportunities to some Americans who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend an institution of higher education,” and that although HBCUs comprise only three percent of the colleges and universities in the U.S., they “graduate 20 percent of African-Americans who hold undergraduate degrees.” Spelman College, an all women’s HBCU in Atlanta, Georgia, had a Fall 2015 second year retention rate of 90 percent and a graduation rate, averaged over six years, of 76 percent, according to their website.
Compare these relatively high numbers to a larger university in South Dakota, Dakota State University, which has a 65 percent retention rate and a 41 percent graduation rate.
Spelman College has a small student-to-faculty ratio of 10 students to one faculty member. They admit an average of 54% of applicants and are on Forbes’ Top Colleges list.
On Unigo, several students and graduates of Spelman college share their opinion about why the school is so great. One student, Ava, says, “Spelman College has a lot to offer for students in any concentration and creates a space of encouragement from fellow students, faculty administration. The classes are small so professors know your name. . . professors are always available for office hours and we have great student success programs available to us on campus.”
Another student, Shalyn, says that she knows she would not get the level of care anywhere else that she receives at Spelman.
The secret recipe for success at HBCUs, community and technical colleges seems to be smaller student-to-faculty ratios and a true sense of care and community provided by faculty.