On Dec. 4, SCSU President Mary A. Papazian joined President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders, to announce new actions to help more students prepare for and graduate from college.
The White House College Opportunity Day of Action helps to support the president’s commitment to partner with colleges and universities, business leaders, and nonprofits to assist students across the country in helping the nation reach its goal of leading the world in college attainment.
The day’s participants were asked to commit to new action in one of four areas: building networks of colleges around promoting completion; creating K-16 partnerships around college readiness; investing in high school counselors as part of the first lady’s Reach Higher initiative; and increasing the number of college graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
SCSU has committed to increase the number and quality of students graduating in the STEM disciplines, and in particular, to ensuring the preparation of effective K-12 STEM teachers. To this end, Southern aims to increase its graduation rate in STEM degrees by 35 percent and STEM teachers with initial certification by 25 percent over the next 10 years.
To achieve these student gains, Southern will focus primarily on three areas:
- K-12 student success in STEM disciplines through a teacher preparation program and associated initiatives. This will include enhancing STEM education for low-income, female and underrepresented minority students at the university level. Efforts will focus on transforming the preparation of 21st century teachers by integrating STEM into various programs, including elementary education and school leadership programs.
- Southern’s newly formed Office for STEM Innovation and Leadership will generate opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to experience innovative research projects in STEM education, with the aim of translating this research into effective practices, particularly in urban contexts.
- Southern will expand its urban initiatives, including the mentoring of undergraduates to enhance their awareness of how to address the challenges of teaching in high-need schools. It will also work to prepare students for success in business and industry, as well as graduate education and leadership in research and teaching at the university level.
“Southern is fully and actively supportive of President Obama’s initiatives to help ensure that a college degree is attainable for all,” Papazian said. “Enhanced success in STEM degree completion at the university level is a significant component of our broader student success initiatives, which strive to enhance retention and graduation rates across the university.
“Southern is committed to graduating a diverse population of students with the skills and knowledge needed to compete and lead in the high-tech, STEM-oriented 21st century economy both locally and globally.”
Obama announced new steps on how his administration is helping to support these actions, including announcing $10 million to help promote college completion, and a $30 million AmeriCorps program that will improve low-income students’ access to college. The event was the second College Opportunity Day of Action, and included a progress report on the commitments made at the first day of action on Jan. 14, 2014.
Expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong economy and a strong middle class. Today, only 9 percent of those born in the lowest family income quartile attain a bachelor’s degree by age 25, compared to 54 percent in the top quartile, according to the White House. In an effort to expand college access, the Obama Administration has increased Pell scholarships by $1,000 a year, created the new American Opportunity Tax Credit worth up to $10,000 over four years of college, limited student loan payments to 10 percent of income, and seeks to reduce college costs and promote innovation and competition.