By Kyeland Jackson–

Interim Provost Neville Pinto presented the final  21st Century University Initiative to the Board of Trustees last week, a plan to increase the six-year-graduation rates to 60 percent. He also announced a new academic building to replace Crawford Gym.

The 21st century plan, first proposed by former provost Shirley Willihnganz, includes new programs and adjustments to advising. It seeks to raise the graduation rate by 2020.

Since the rate has increased for the past 14 years, the initiative seeks to accelerate that growth. In 2002, it was 33 percent. Now it’s 52 percent, a jump of nearly 20 percent. To ensure these new programs are effective, the provost suggested focusing on a specific student population.

“There’s a significant percentage of our students, 30 to 40 percent, that we categorize as risers,” Pinto said. He said these students are essential to the university’s success. More than 70 percent of budget funds are tied to student success, and hinge on the rates of university achievement. The risers graduate at lower rates than the university average.

Beginning with suggestions on advising changes, Pinto outlined how the plan would hire a large amount of advisors. To help more accurately address the risers, the university will partner with the Education Advisory Board and TRIO Student Support Services. EAB supports advising and performance improvement while TRIO supports advising and services for first generation college students and students with disabilities. TRIO achieved its prescribed goals between 2010-2015 and retains its $1.5 million in funding. Each group will have a five-year plan.

The new advising staff would be accompanied by new software including SmartPlanner. SmartPlanner builds on the advising flight plan, adding a customizable aspect. Students can adjust required courses as they progress. To ensure the plan’s success, emphasis would be placed on students taking summer courses.

Board member Emily Bingham praised the advising changes, saying that advising helps increase graduation rates and retention.

“The student is the pilot, the advisor is co-pilot and the technology is the in-flight toolkit,” Pinto said.

The board also heard about several new campus buildings. For the Living Learning Communities on campus, 12 percent more beds will be added. The new academic building, at the site of Crawford gym, will include a pedagogy area for teachers as well.

The area, as Pinto explained, would allow for closer student and teacher interaction. Faculty currently in the gym will be relocated.

The budget for the plans is $7.55 million annually. The plan faces a tight deadline, as the freshman class of 2020 will begin this fall. Larry Benz, chairman of the board of trustees, asked whether the initiative’s graduation rate goal could be achieved or not.

“We want to give it our best shot,” Pinto said in response.

The plan should be starting spring of next year, and board members thanked Pinto’s supervision of the initiative to it’s completion.

“This initiative has many hours and meeting behind it and we’re seeing results, thank you Pinto.” Board of trustees member Bruce Henderson said