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Faculty’s Role in Student Success: Engagement in and outside of the Classroom


Defining and Promoting Student Success
A National Symposium
November 21-22, 2008
University of San Francisco
San Francisco, California


Sylvia Carey-Butler, UNCF Institute for Capacity Building

Clarissa Myrick-Harris, UNCF Institute for Capacity Building

Using results from several recent studies by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), this paper provides: 1) baseline data on attitudes and practices related to faculty engagement with students in and out of the classroom among administrators and faculty at private historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) administrators and faculty; 2) examples of current programs at UNCF member institutions that involve faculty in efforts to recruit, retain and graduate students; and 3) findings that highlight the disconnect between the tradition of engaged faculty at private HBCUs and the current reality of enrollment management and academic affairs structures that do not systematically support a high level of multi-faceted faculty engagement with students.

A recent study conducted by UNCF’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute reported that first generation college students represent a significant portion of those attending HBCUs, come from low-income backgrounds, and tend to be less well prepared academically. The report further states that in spite of the potential negative consequences of these student characteristics, HBCUs in the aggregate succeed in retaining and graduating students at a higher rate than predominantly white institutions (PWIs) (Rowley 2007). Moreover, a growing body of literature asserts that faculty at HBCUs play an important role in their students’ success, defined as academic achievement, engagement in educationally purposeful activities, satisfaction, acquisition of desired knowledge, skills and competencies, persistence, attainment of educational objectives, and post college performance. (Kuh 2006) Fries-Brit and Turner (2002) asserted that students at HBCUs attributed their success to encouragement from faculty and staff. Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) provided evidence on the positive impact of faculty interactions with students outside of the classroom. Faculty contribute to student success through social as well as academic supports such as comprehensive student orientation programs, learner-centered courses, advising, and mentorship.

Results from comprehensive baseline studies conducted by the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building’s (ICB) Enrollment Management Program (EMP) and the Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement Program (CFEP) provide quantitative and qualitative evidence that contribute to the research concerning the role of faculty in student success at HBCUs, particularly at UNCF member private HBCUs. Moreover, the UNCF studies provide insight into attitudes, policies and practices in enrollment management and academic affairs that both facilitate and hinder systematic involvement of faculty at private HBCUs in efforts aimed at bolstering student recruitment, retention, satisfaction and persistence to graduation.

The UNCF Institute for Capacity Building studies that inform this paper are: The UNCF Enrollment Management Program Presidents’ Survey Report (Myrick-Harris and Richardson 2007), and The Competitive Edge: Enrollment Management Practices at Private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (Carey 2007) as well as preliminary findings from the CFEP’s UNCF Faculty Engagement Study (Myrick-Harris and Nagle 2008).

Historical Overview
Since their inception during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, the mission of HBCUs has been to provide access to higher educational opportunities primarily for African American students generally underrepresented in post-secondary education; a further aim has been to prepare these students for graduate study, careers, and leadership roles in society (Lomax 2007). The faculties of HBCUs always have been central to the fulfillment of this mission. Faculties at both private and public HBCUs traditionally have seen their role as multifaceted; while classroom interactions with students have been the primary point of contact, educators at HBCUs generally have accepted as a given that they will advise, mentor, and counsel students as they attempt to negotiate the dynamic social terrain of college life.

UNCF Institute for Capacity Building’s Role in Student Success
The UNCF Institute for Capacity Building (ICB) is a strategic UNCF initiative established in 2006 to support its membership of 39 private HBCUs as they attempt to successfully carry out their mission to educate African American students. There are six program components within ICB: Institutional Advancement; Enrollment Management; Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement; Fiscal and Strategic Technical Assistance; Facilities and Infrastructure Enhancement; and Leadership and Governance.

Complementary Roles of EMP and CFEP
Inevitably, a nexus exists among all of the six programs of the UNCF ICB. However, the connection between the Enrollment Management Program (EMP) and Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement Program (CFEP) is particularly strong, as the missions of these two programs are most directly concerned with the retention and satisfaction of students. The EMP studies and preliminary findings of the CFEP study reveal that administrators and faculty at UNCF member institutions realize and appreciate the link between engaged, satisfied faculty and engaged, satisfied students. However, the studies also reveal that a large number of these institutions do not have in place systematic programs that facilitate faculty’s involvement in student recruitment and retention.

Enrollment Management Program
Hossler and Bean (1990) define enrollment management as an “organizational concept and a systematic set of activities designed to enable educational institutions to exert more influence over their student enrollments.” Carey (2007) stated that enrollment management provides an umbrella of support and collaboration with Admissions, Financial Aid, the Registrar, and Student Support Services strategically linked in both reporting structures, and oftentimes, physical proximity. In an effort to better understand how UNCF member institutions recruit, enroll, retain, and graduate students, the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building’s Enrollment Management Program conducted a comprehensive baseline assessment. Thirty-six UNCF member institutions participated in the assessments.


  • Conducted Presidential Survey
  • Site Visits (categories of review: Enrollment Management/Admissions, Retention, Student Affairs, Facilities, and Technology)
  • Attended departmental meetings
  • Attended student leadership meetings

EMP Presidential Survey:
This survey of UNCF chief executive officers aimed to discern patterns and differences in the respondents’ consideration of a range of related variables that influence student success at their institutions, including interaction with faculty. Thirty-one of the 39 presidents of UNCF member institutions participated in the survey administered in 2006.

UNCF member institutions recognize the need to better understand who their students are, how to align limited resources, how to engage students inside and outside of the classroom and the role that faculty must play in the retention of students. As relates to the connection between faculty involvement and enrollment management goals, the survey findings revealed the following:

77.4% of UNCF presidents recognize that faculty mentoring is very important to recruitment and retention of students

Eighteen respondents (58.0%) listed the benefits of their institutions’ small size as a factor that attract students. Specifically, they listed

  • Low faculty: student ratio
  • Small class sizes
  • Individualized attention

Twenty-two of the 31 respondents (70.9%) listed academic programs as a major selling point for their institutions, especially as related to:

  • Strong and nationally accredited programs
  • Highly-qualified renowned faculty

Eighteen respondents (58.0%) listed the benefits of their institutions’ social context as strong selling points, especially as related to:

  • Nurturing, family environment
  • Caring faculty and staff

EMP Comprehensive Assessment
For the EMP institutional assessment, the 39 UNCF member institutions were divided into four regions; eight consultants were hired and went out in teams of two over two semesters to 36 of the campuses. The consultants conducted two-day site visits at each institution, meeting with representatives from Enrollment, Admissions, Financial Aid, Student Affairs, first and last year students, and in some cases campus presidents, chief academic officers, and other key stakeholders.

The assessments uncovered the diversity of enrollment management models at UNCF member institutions, 47% of the institutions used the traditional model of enrollment management referred to above. Eight percent had moved away from the model and decentralized recruitment and retention efforts, and 14% moved to a committee structure hoping to facilitate cross campus collaborations in their recruitment and retention efforts. Thirty percent have traditional admissions operations that focus on the recruitment and awarding of financial aid to students.

The report also revealed that 69% of the institutions currently have a retention office or designated personnel responsible for overall retention on campus. These retention programs focus on first and second year students, who are at a greater risk of dropping out or stopping out. There is a dearth of enrollment management programs at UNCF member institutions that systematically involve faculty in the conceptualization and implementation of activities to recruit and retain students. However, the EMP assessment revealed that potential exemplars exist:

  • Allen University’s Enrollment Management Task force and ASPIRE (Academic Support Program to Inspire and Reach Excellence)
  • Claflin University’s SOAR (Student Outreach and Academic Retention) Program, which is comprised of TRIO Programs, Gear Up and The Counseling Center
  • Talladega College’s program in which faculty return to campus on nights and weekends to serve as mentors
  • Virginia Union’s CAPSUL Program, an Academic Affairs and Student Leadership model that focuses on students’ academic achievement
  • Wilberforce University’s first year seminar that has been expanded to include pre-and post-seminar testing of all incoming students

UNCF Faculty Engagement Study
The Curriculum and Faculty Enhancement Program (CFEP) of UNCF ICB is conducting a network-wide baseline assessment of the perceptions and experiences of faculty at the 39 UNCF member institutions as they attempt to enhance their abilities to promote student success. This study is being conducted over a one-year period-Spring 2008 through Spring 2009-and is a component of the UNCF/Ford Faculty Enhancement Initiative. The study will provide a baseline for the existence of faculty development programs and the level of institutional support for such programs as well as for faculty engagement with students in and outside the classroom at UNCF member institutions. A major assumption of this study is that to influence student success, faculty must be involved in systematic and ongoing activities to acquire and enhance their own pedagogies, teaching and learning strategies, research, and professional development. (Sorcinelli, et.al 2006)


  • Survey of UNCF Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) [March -April 2008]. Thirty-two of the 39 UNCF CAOs participated (CAOs included provosts, vice presidents for academic affairs, and academic deans)
  • Pilot Survey of UNCF Faculty (March-April 2008); 59 faculty members representing 32 UNCF Institutions participated
  • Focus Groups – Administrators (CAO Focus Group, April 2008; Faculty and Students (Fall 2008-Winter 2009 at member institutions)
  • Network-wide Faculty Development Survey (Winter 2009)

Preliminary Findings
CAO Survey – The majority of the 32 CAOs surveyed strongly agree that there is a direct relationship between faculty development efforts and their institutions’ vision (61.3%), mission (71.0%), and strategic plans (64.5%). Moreover, CAOs believe that faculty development efforts will help institutions achieve their strategic plan goals. However, less than a third of CAOs surveyed (32.3%) “strongly agree” that their institutions actually make an intentional effort to link faculty development with student recruitment and retention.

Pilot Faculty Development Survey Findings – The 59 faculty respondents to the Pilot Faculty Development Survey represented 32 of the 39 UNCF member institutions. Only 27 of the respondents (45.8%) “strongly agree” that faculty development efforts at their institutions are directly related to the institution’s strategic plan. Further, only 12 of the faculty respondents (20.3%) were in “strong agreement” that their institutions make an intentional effort to link faculty development with student recruitment and retention.

The majority of the 59 faculty respondents to this survey self reported that they engage in innovative, learner-centered teaching and learning strategies in and out of the classroom to promote student success, including:

  • Internships (96.4%)
  • Freshman year curriculum (92.9%)
  • Faculty-Student research projects (89.3%)
  • Honors programs (78.6%)
  • Capstone seminars (75.0%)
  • Service learning programs (71.4%)

Challenges and Barriers to Greater Faculty Involvement
Although the majority of administrators and faculty surveyed so far in the UNCF Faculty Engagement Study see the link between faculty development and student success, only 40% of the institutions designate institutional funds for faculty development operations. Nearly half (46%) of the individuals responsible for faculty development receive no additional compensation and the primary incentive for faculty to participate in activities is special recognition. More specifically, respondents noted that there are limited institutional resources to support faculty/student projects (e.g. research, joint conference presentations), pedagogy/curriculum innovation, and co-curricular activities. Further, faculty surveyed revealed that heavy course loads often prevent them from participating in activities meant to enhance their ability to promote student success.

Recognizing the importance of institutional leadership buy-in for successful retention efforts Tinto (2005) stated “too few (institutions) are willingly to commit needed resources’ and address the deeper structural issues that ultimately shape student persistence.” While there are many successful strategies that can be employed to encourage faculty engagement in student success, to date the comprehensive assessments of UNCF member institutions have discovered the following practices as effective student retention strategies:

  1. The creation of a comprehensive retention plan that utilizes the expertise and resources of all stakeholders (faculty, staff and students), identifies academic risk factors, and ensures that each factor is considered in the plan.
  2. The enhancement of program assessment practices and requirement of written evidence of key performance indicators or performance benchmarks to assess institutional progress in retention efforts.
  3. The development of early warning policies and practices with strong faculty buy-in.
  4. Institutional leadership transparency with faculty and staff on retention success and challenges.
  5. The establishment of an institutional retention committee with representation from Enrollment, Academic Affairs, Faculty, and other key stakeholders on campus whose mission is tied to the overall mission of the institution.

Carey, Sylvia (2007).The Competitive Edge: Enrollment Management Practices at Private Historically Black Colleges and Universities.Prepared by the United Negro College Fund’s Institute for Capacity Building

Fries-Britt, S.L., & Turner, B. (2002). “Uneven stories: The experiences of successful black collegians at a historically black and a traditionally white campus.” The Review of Higher Education, 25 (3), 315

Hosseler, Don; Bean, John P.; and Associates. (1990).The Strategic Management of College Enrollments. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Kuh, G; Kinzi, J.; Buckley, J.; Bridges, B,; Hayek, J (2006)What Matters to Student Success: A Review of the Literature.Commissioned Report for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success: Spearheading a Dialog on Student Success.

Lomax, Michael. (2007).). “Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Bringing a Tradition of Engagement into the Twenty-First Century,” in Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 11 (3).

Myrick-Harris, C.; Nagle, B. (2008). UNCF Faculty Engagement Study. Prepared by the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building and the UNCF Special Programs Center for Assessment, Planning and Accountability

Myrick-Harris, C.; Richardson, C. (2007).UNCF Enrollment Management Program Presidents’ Survey Comprehensive Report.Prepared for the UNCF Enrollment Management Program: Institute for Capacity Building.

Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (1991).How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research.San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rowley, Chishamiso (2007).The Enrollment Study.Prepared for The Frederick D. Paterson Research Institute: United Negro College Fund

Sorcinelli, Ann E. Austin, et. Al (2006). Creating the Future of Faculty Development: Learning From the Past, Understanding the Present. Bolton, Mass: Anker.

Vincent, Tinto Presented at the 2005 National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing and Retention, Washington, D.C., July 27-30.