STUDENT SUCCESS FOCUS OF AUDIT
The Arizona Auditor General undertook a review of student success at Arizona’s public universities last year, finding that the board and universities have established goals and appropriate strategies for improving student retention and graduation rates.
The audit also concluded the Arizona Board of Regents has worked with the universities to establish student retention and graduation goals for each university to meet by 2025, and all three universities have developed multiple strategies that may help them achieve these goals by addressing common obstacles students face to staying in school and graduating in a timely manner.
The board appreciates the Auditor General’s focus on student success. Arizona and the country face a rapidly changing economy in which an educated workforce is increasingly important to growth, as nearly two-thirds of all jobs now demand education beyond a high school diploma. For individuals, higher levels of educational attainment and skills acquisition are essential for employment mobility. Those market factors, along with changing demographics, mean that it’s essential to learn new ways to make more students from different diverse backgrounds successful, so that they – and the state – can be competitive.
Starting in 2013, the board added student success as a statewide objective and the board’s overarching strategic plan includes student success measures and targets for the universities. As part of a year-long focus on quality, quality markers were established to ensure course offerings at Arizona public universities represent the level of excellence students expect. A quality matrix has been established at each university and the enterprise is examining general education offerings, the skills and knowledge delivered in these programs and how student gains are verified. In addition, university performance is measured annually through the board’s extensive operational and financial reviews.
The board recognizes students as shareholders of the universities. With that mindset, the board has more directly involved students in its work. For example:
- The board has directly taken on a primary concern of students – affordability – by increasing the predictability and stability of tuition setting and even more importantly, slowing the rate of tuition increases. Through effective use of financial aid, tuition rates have remained competitive with peers while student debt is lower than in many other states.
- The board has also prioritized students in its requests for state appropriations. The new funding model more aptly represents the public-private nature of higher education by asking that state monies be dedicated to help defray the costs of education for Arizona resident students.
- Likewise, student safety remains a top concern, and a statewide task force led to the enhancement of student safety and wellbeing on and off campus. The board also has increased student engagement and involvement in board and university processes to ensure the student voice is heard in key decisions.
- The board continues to provide statewide, system-level vision, guidance and support for significant policy and legal issues that impact student success. During the past three years, the board has increased pathways, developed new delivery models and implemented new tuition policies to increase access to higher education across Arizona.
The board continues to monitor university performance through its metrics to ensure student success. Financial aid is a key factor of student success and the board is piloting new approaches to financial aid to advance access.
Reforms reflect and reinforce ABOR’s continued commitment to keeping an Arizona university education as affordable and accessible as possible.