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Saturday, September 30, 2023

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SDSU's Coordinated Campus Wide Student Success Committee recently launched the “Successful Students” campaign to help students make the most of their experience. (SDSU)

SDSU's 'Successful Students' Campaign Offers Holistic Approach to Achievement, Inclusion and Well-being

Six vital tips to help students navigate the new norms of academic achievement amidst change and challenges.
By Aaron Burgin

The pandemic and post-pandemic eras have reshaped our world, including what it takes to be a successful student at San Diego State University.


It’s not just about great grades and a full social calendar, though that’s part of it, university officials said. It’s about taking care of yourself, asking for help when you need it, getting involved — but not stretching yourself too thin — and embracing SDSU’s diverse ecosystem,” said Randy Timm, the dean of Students at SDSU. “We want to make sure that we keep these messages at the top of students’ minds throughout their university career.”


“All of these things — your mental health, your academic achievement, your social involvement — they’re all interconnected.” 


The university, through the University's Coordinated Campus Wide Student Success Committee, recently launched the “Successful Students” campaign, which features six tips to help students make the most of their SDSU experience:


  • Take 30 units to finish 
  • Ask for help (SDSU offers a range of support services for students)
  • Go to class
  • Get involved
  • Practice self-care
  • Embrace diversity, equity and inclusion


The campaign rolled out during the summer New Student Orientation sessions and will continue throughout the academic year, Timm said. 


“I think they did a good job aligning mental health and physical well-being to academic success,” said Samantha Lingao, a fourth-year psychology major and the executive vice president of Associated Students. “They recognized that students are not just students in the classroom and people trying to get a degree, they are also trying to learn how to make sense of all of it in their lives. That type of holistic thinking is really important.”


Students have heard many of these tips already during their time at SDSU — getting involved, for example.


The campaign comes at a critical time in postsecondary education when educators across the nation are seeing substantial learning loss and drops in math and reading proficiency among students, as well as increases in reported mental health issues and high absenteeism since the return to in-person learning. 


“The first-year students we are welcoming this fall spent critical years of their high school education learning entirely online. With the pandemic behind us, we need students to understand that there is nothing like learning in real time, in real life, in person,” said Joanna Brooks, SDSU's associate vice president for Faculty Advancement & Student Success. 


 “In fact, our data shows that the SDSU courses with the lowest attendance rates have among the highest rates of D and F grades,” Brooks also said. “If you want to pass, especially in those critical first-year courses, go to class.”   


‘30 to Finish’ 


The university discovered after the return to in-person learning that upper-level students were taking 13 or fewer units per semester during their final year — far fewer than the recommended 30 units during the final year to graduate on time. 


Timm said the “30 to Finish” campaign seeks to help students reach that target in ways that they can manage, including taking summer session courses. 


“Staying a fifth or a sixth year means, in some cases, that students are missing out on a year or two of salary they could be earning, and (on top of that) they’re still paying for college,” Timm said. “They’re essentially losing money in the long run, so we’re trying to find ways to support our students so they can get out in the workforce, if that is their choice.”


Prioritizing Self-Care’


Another significant finding by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the widespread increase in anxiety and depression among students. More than a third (37%) of high school students reported they experienced poor mental health during the pandemic, and 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during 2021. 


Practicing self-care and asking for help are important to succeeding academically, but they also are critical to maintaining your mental health, Timm said. 


“When students realize that they are stressed out more than they have been, they need to reach out,” he said. “We’re training our staff to send students to the right resources to find that help.”


Students who have been exposed to the “Successful Students” campaign already said they feel it is the right message at the right time. 


The self-care and “ask for help” tips resonated with Ally Gallant, a political science major from Sacramento who is on track to graduate in three years. In October 2021, during her first year, she said she was feeling overwhelmed, tired and homesick, but she overcame the doldrums by leaning on her support network. 


“It’s so hard sometimes to be vulnerable and put yourself out there, but it’s something that is so important,” Gallant said. “Faculty and staff are willing to help you, you just have to show up. I found that doing that, taking time to reflect and take care of myself, getting in the gym and eating healthier and spending time with my friends helped me find the balance I needed to keep going.”


Improving Retention: A Strategic Priority 


Timm said that the university is already seeing dividends from the campaign and other tangential outreach. For example, SDSU found that the gaps in retention rates between historically underrepresented minorities and white students closed during the pandemic, while commuter student four-year graduation rates jumped from 37% to 44% between 2020 and 2022. 


On average, new students have been registering for nearly 16 units for this fall semester (15.6 units), Timm said. 


The Coordinated Campus Wide Student Success Plan addresses SDSU’s goal outlined in the university's five-year strategic plan to provide all faculty, staff and advisers with information on retention data and equity gaps in their classrooms, programs and their respective colleges and departments. The collaborative plan ensures that all student success initiatives are actively coordinated and continuously engaged in equity-driven, evidence-based improvement efforts.


“We’re moving in the right direction, and we hope to see the campaign continue to pay off,” Timm said.