Improvement is never easy – change takes commitment.

ETSU’s graduation rate is below national average, around 42 percent, and its African American graduation rate is especially lacking at 22 percent. The statistics are counted for the university’s first-time freshmen who graduate within six years, meaning the current crop of freshmen should start to see changes in the implementation of advisors and other student-focused programs.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to improve our graduation rate,” said ETSU President Brian Noland. “There are a lot of things that have been in the works for three or four years, and there a things that are in the queue.”

In particular, Noland wants to provide advising specifically focused on students of color. That also means growing QUEST, a program designed to help underrepresented students through peer advising, academic support and mentoring, as well as the central stations in the multicultural center. Additionally, Noland seeks to implement advising for low-income and first-generation college students.

“We need to create networks of support for these students, and those networks need to be here [on campus],” he said, noting how ETSU is a commuter-college.

Noland cites data suggesting residential students, as opposed to those commuting, perform better academically. They are evaluating the need for requiring freshmen who do not live within so many miles of the campus to live in a residence hall their first year – ETSU is in the minority of Tennessee universities who do not currently require campus residency.

Some recent initiatives have been put in place, like 15 to Finish, which has been “pushed religiously,” where students are urged to take 15 credit hours in a full-time pursuit of a degree; other measures are being discussed, ones that Noland and fellow leaders seek to be “intentional” means of student intervention.

Noland insists that if ETSU simply wanted to boost its graduation rate, those steps could be taken with relative ease, but it would compromise the university’s educational values. According to federal data, ETSU accepts 86 percent of student applicants, meaning the university wants to open its doors to students who might would be denied access at other schools.

“Our mission is to ensure students have the opportunity to realize their dreams,” Noland said. “I think we have a moral responsibility to create structures that ensure all students have the opportunity to be successful.”