More than half of students who enroll in college will drop out within six years. And that number is even higher for first-generation, low-income, and minority students. David Laude, a chemistry professor and senior vice provost at the University of Texas at Austin, identified one simple way to improve student outcomes, reports Jeffrey Selingo for the Washington Post.
In the late 1990s, Laude began noticing a shift in the grade distribution of his 500-seat introductory chemistry course. The majority of students were on track to pass with A’s and B’s, and the rest were on track to fail with D’s and F’s—but none were in the middle.
He found that most of the struggling students were low-income or first-generation.
So in the fall of 1999, he pulled 50 low-income, first-generation students from his 500-seat class and taught them separately. “It was the same material, it was just as hard, but I changed my attitude about these students,” explains Laude. “We beat into their heads that they were scholars, that they were great.”
Laude also assigned the students advisors and peer mentors. By the end of the semester, the students in his 50-seat class earned the same grades as the students in the 500-seat class. “These were students I would have failed a year earlier,” says Laude.
Eventually, professors of other large, introductory courses on campus adopted Laude’s approach to invest in these at-risk students. And the university is already seeing results. According to UT-Austin’s data, the four-year graduation rate rose from 52% to 66% in the last four years alone—and growth spans across racial groups and income levels.
Laude continues to support student success efforts on UT-Austin’s campus. He experiments with teaching methods, like putting course material online to save class time for discussions and teaching from the middle of the classroom rather than from a podium in the front. “It’s about creating a culture that I’m on your side,” explains Laude (Selingo, Washington Post, 6/8/18).