Reilly: Supporting students to create a resilient workforce (The Journal Record)

By: RUSO Regent Connie Reilly

I remember my first few years as a K-12 teacher in Oklahoma. There was a new challenge each day, and I sometimes questioned if it was the right path for me. Thankfully, I had wonderful colleagues and mentors to guide me through the growing pains and I eventually felt right at home in the classroom.

A recent UCLA study found that nearly 60% of university students across the country who start out in science, technology, engineering, and math programs drop their major after their first or second year. In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell theorizes that it may not be the difficult coursework as much as the unmanageable environment that leads to students dropping out of STEM. The more that an institution exhibits a comparison-based, unwelcoming academic culture, the worse students feel about their abilities. Other concerns are challenges staying engaged in large lecture-style courses with limited opportunities for interaction with professors. The energy many students need to thrive in an uncomfortable or unsupportive environment depletes their capacity to undertake challenging fields of study.

The study found that increasing the confidence and motivation of STEM majors through early research experience, active learning in introductory courses and individual connection with professors has an impact. Academic achievement is like a muscle that can be flexed and developed over time if students can persevere. The support that a university provides to students shapes their willingness and their ability to tackle challenges and finish difficult tasks.

Regional University System of Oklahoma universities graduates report that they felt comfortable at RUSO universities when they didn’t fit in at larger schools. RUSO institutions have created proactive and nurturing support systems that help students succeed. For those who need family support or the convenience of living close to home, RUSO universities, branches and satellite campuses are located across the state. Flexible schedules and class times make it easier to complete a degree. Our class sizes are small, and students create relationships with professors. Our degree offerings complement the careers of working students and provide a leg up for those entering the workforce. When students feel comfortable, they are willing to take more risks and try new, difficult things and they develop resilience.

And the payoff for our state is significant. Nearly 84% of RUSO graduates are employed in Oklahoma five years after graduation. Our universities are ladders to success, providing degreed graduates the opportunity to increase their lifetime earning potential. RUSO schools outperform the national average in creating upward social mobility for students by 38%. We know students are more likely to stay the course of higher ed and contribute to Oklahoma’s workforce if they are part of a community with similar goals and challenges. We are proud to be that course for over 34,000 students annually.

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