Here (after a lengthy preamble) is a guest post from Robert Caret, president of the University of Massachusetts and former president of Towson University.

Towson emerged under Caret’s presidency as a national model for its success at eliminating disparities in graduation rates among students of different racial and ethnic groups.

Caret moved this year to the presidency of the University of Massachusetts system. I spoke to him by phone a few days ago and invited him to write a post on what Maryland should do to improve the statewide graduation rate.

“What we did at Towson was possible at Towson,” Caret said. “It may not be possible at each of the U-Masses. ... The goal becomes that each of us become better at what we’re doing.”

Towson’s trajectory, he said, “is obviously to continue to get larger and higher quality,” always with an eye on the competition — the flagship campus in College Park.

And now, the post.

From virtually every perspective, improving graduation rates and closing graduation-rate gaps among social and economic groups are issues that demand our attention — and can be addressed in ways that have significant potential for success.

At Towson University, we were able to make progress in both areas, and I believe that the lessons were learned are applicable and transferrable locally and across the nation.

The benefits of making progress with graduation rates in general and in closing graduation-rate gaps — as we did at Towson — are significant, as individual students will have richer and more productive lives, society as a whole will benefit from their enhanced contributions, and in the instances where these improvements occur at publicly funded institutions, taxpayers will get a better return on their significant investments. Everyone wins.

As I consider these issues and are asked about them in my new position as President of the University of Massachusetts, here are some of the key lessons we learned at Towson and perspectives that I would offer to anyone seeking to make progress in this vital area:

·        Regardless of the current performance, set specific goals for improvement.  If improvement is warranted, we cannot allow a continuing downward spiral or the status quo to continue. There are many reasons why we are not achieving the numbers that we desire and I will not take the time to articulate them here; we know them well.  Suffice it to say that our states are investing in higher education with the goal of graduating students, and it is in the best interest of the state that we graduate as many of them as possible.

·        Accept students who can be successful on your campus.  It is disingenuous to do otherwise.  States can no longer afford to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars per graduate which is what results if we take in students with little chance of achieving success.  The time wasted and the emotional toll on individuals is unacceptable.  We all know, from years of experience, which students can graduate from our campuses. Focus on them.

·        We must provide appropriate support to all students who walk in our doors.  To fail to do so, again, is disingenuous and inappropriate.  Students arrive with the expectation that they will be successful and if we accept them, we need to take the steps needed to ensure that they can be successful.  We also need to insure that we maintain an appropriate balance between tuition costs and aid to insure that no qualified student is denied access due to insurmountable financial hurdles.  We want to remain accessible and we should, but we need to do so in ways in which student attrition is minimized and student success is maximized.

·        Work closely with the community colleges to provide alternate pathways for access to our four-year institutions; facilitate and streamline the transfer pipeline and work to expand it so that more can enter our doors ready to be successful.

·        Work with K-12 to ensure that students arrive with the backgrounds necessary to be successful.  If students are coming to us unprepared, work hand-in–hand with those schools sending us those students to ensure that future graduates will be ready and poised to succeed.

 I provide these comments from a 50,000-foot level.  They are not aimed at any state in particular.  They provide a common-sense approach and a philosophy that will lead to improved success in the area of retention and graduation for all of our students. 

Stronger and smarter efforts in this area will pay dividends in the future as we see larger — and more diverse — graduating classes in future years.