On 28 January in Addison, TX, the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Student (NISTS) hosted its 2010 conference that had a kickin’ opening plenary. The conference brought together practitioners from 35 states to share best practices in supporting and graduating transfer students, and this speaker got us all excited for our work and its importance. I was there to support the after-conference mini-workshop titled “What does it take to help students transfer successfully in the sciences?” that’s an outgrowth (and dissemination effort) of the Belknap Springs Workshop.

The speaker to which I refer is Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I’d just recently learned of Dr. Hrabowski and his successes in increasing the number of students who pursue and earn degrees in STEM, so it was a thrill to hear him speak. I’m sharing this experience here in the hopes that others can benefit.

His talk, which is brimming with imagery and poetry, included the following gems:

  • Of 300+ million Americans, 54 million started college but never finished. Education is life-long and we need to include this group in our thinking about higher education.

  • People who succeed have a community, so we need to be providing a multi-faceted support system and increase opportunities for learners to participate in group collaboration and teams.

  • In 1965, only 10% of Americans had college degrees (11% of caucasians, 2% of African-Americans). Today in America, 25% of Americans have college degrees (32% of caucasians, 17% of African-Americans, 11% of Hispanics, 50% of asians, and less than 10% of native americans). UPSHOT: there are so many people who do not have college degrees that the real challenge is getting first-generation colleges students to and through college.

  • We need to know these students (underrepresented students, first-generation students, transfer students) on our campus on several different levels: test-scores, attitudes, levels of motivation, grades, post-graduate activity, etc. Recommend focus groups to listen to students.

  • We need to adjust the University to be a community of mentors; get everyone at the University to see themselves as a mentor. What the University does to support faculty and staff affects all community members.

Opening Plenary Address At 2010 Conference Of The National Institute For The Study Of Transfer Students by Freeman Hrabowski (Intro By John Gardner) Listen

Take a listen to the whole talk to hear the details and Hrabowski’s passion. There are also pointers he makes to some valuable readings, and he answers some questions at the end of his talk. The whole things is about 1 hour 10 minutes long, so it’s an easy drive-time listen.