A Commitment to Attainment at Ohio State

Syllabification: (at·tain·ment)
Pronunciation: /əˈtānmənt/
the action or fact of achieving a goal toward which one has worked

In higher education, the term attainment is often associated with degree completion. When discussing attainment, several other terms also often rise in the conversation: completion rate, persistence, retention, affordability, and time-to-degree. None of these related issues can be ignored if progress toward increased degree completion rates are to be achieved.

There has recently been increased attention focused on the issues related to attainment, and a National Commission on Higher Education Attainment was created in 2011, with participation from the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (A۰P۰L۰U), and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). The Commission was chaired by OSU’s former president, E. Gordon Gee. After meeting from October in 2011 until late in 2012, the Commission released a report in January, 2013.


The report credited universities for the efforts to increase attainment, but also noted that much more could be done. According to a letter from the Commisssion announcing the report:

“We need to do more … We believe every institution must pay as much attention to the number of degrees it grants—completion—as it does to success in admissions and recruitment. It is now time for all colleges and universities to marshal the resources needed to make completion our strategic priority.”

Among the strategies called for by the commission were: “…clearly and unambiguously assigning responsibility to specific senior administrators for improving retention and graduation rates; considering expanded use of assessments that measure learning acquired outside the traditional classroom; improving remedial services; pinpointing weaknesses in preparation; and harnessing information technology to identify at-risk students.”

Ohio State has a commitment to the goals expressed in the national conversation around attainment and to the challenges posed in the Commission report. The University has for many years developed programs with this in mind (e.g., FYE, the Young Scholars Program, STEP, Learning Communities, the Scholars Program, as well as many related support services across campus.) The Office of Undergraduate Education, along with others on our campus, have an opportunity (and obligation) to advocate for the benefits of post-secondary education, and to participate in the partnership between educational institutions (including P-12, community colleges, and other public and private four year institutions), business and policymakers as we strive to achieve the national and statewide goals of increasing the number of college graduates.

Ohio State has been working with other parties in the region toward a “Central Ohio Compact”, which came out of a Regional Summit on College Access and Success that I and other OSU representatives attended. This summit brought together P-12 leaders, two year and four year institutions, business and community organizations, and educational service providers to discuss how we might achieve the “Big Goal” of 60% of Americans with a college certificate or degree by 2025. The Compact states four strategic principles that will help achieve this goal: aspiration and access; alignment and academic preparation; pathways for adult learners; and affordability. All of these goals are in alignment with those stated in the national conversations of attainment.

OSU has agreed to work with the Board of Regents on a grant to look at the efficacy of what is called “reverse transfer”. This program, called “Credit When it is Due” allows students that have transferred to a four year institution before completing requirements for their Associate degree at a two year school to transfer the appropriate credits back to the two year school and receive the Associates diploma.

Several of us in the Office of Academic Affairs are working on other issues related to attainment, specifically: dual enrollment; institutional partnerships related to early college and college access; working to identify and meet the needs of students arriving with large numbers of pre-college credits, including engaging advising staff, to assure timely graduation; participation in discussions at the state level regarding the “completion agenda”; working with the Board of Regents and the Chamber of Commerce and other groups on internship opportunities for undergraduates; and the role of high impact practices as a way of engaging students and raising retention rates, and reducing time-to-degree.

I have been working closely with our new Military and Veterans Services Office on issues related to military experience credit, CLEP exam credit assignment, and student engagement and retention. We have participated in Board of Regents discussions that would expand the use of examination and experiential credit assignment for military and veteran students, as well as other prior learning assessment strategies for all students.

Affordability is one of the barriers to attainment. Problems of reduced state and local support, rising tuition, reduced financial aid, and tightening credit status for students and families has created a crisis for higher education, including Ohio State. We are working with the Board of Regents to define three year pathways to certain degrees, we are expanding our distance learning opportunities, we are enhancing our advising training and expertise, and we are participating in discussions with partner institutions around college readiness, all with a goal of minimizing the impact caused by affordability. We are starting conversations with businesses around providing employee opportunities to complete a degree, encouraging tuition reimbursement policies, flexible schedules, the use of distance courses and onsite classes, and providing internships for our students.

I attended the Forum on the Future of Higher Education in Aspen the past several years, discussing the general topics of attainment and affordability, and while there participated in a discussion with 17 of our peer institutions related to the establishment of a “Flagship Universities Network” to advance discussions and potential partnerships related to attainment, among other issues. Ohio State has signed a letter of participation intent with this Network. We will work through and with this group, with the various affiliated organizations focused on attainment, including the Lumina Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Complete College America, the National Governors Association, the College Board and the Brookings Institution.

We will continue to work with our campus partners, specifically ODI, Undergraduate Admissions and FYE, Economic Access, and others in our quest to achieve the “Big Goal” while meeting the needs of special groups, particularly first generation, low-income, and diversity students, as well as adult learners and other non-traditional students from all over the world.

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