The JMU Board of Visitors (BoV) introduced a new center for first-generation students, announced low-cost educational resource programs and heard a presentation on career outcomes and retention rates at its full-board meeting on Nov. 18.
Career outcomes presentation
Myles Surrett, associate vice president for career, experiential learning and transitions, presented new information from the University Career Center on career outcomes for JMU graduates.
Outcomes look at where students are within six months of graduating from JMU, including full- and part-time work, internships, fellowships, graduate school and military service. Compared to five other Virginia schools, including William & Mary, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), George Mason University (GMU) and the University of Virginia (U.Va.), JMU has the highest percentage of undergraduate career outcomes at 95.6% for the class of 2021, Surrett said.
During a discussion on the breakdown between full- and part-time employment, Surrett said the median salary for 2021 graduates was $51,900 for those with a bachelor’s degree. While Virginia Tech and U.Va. have higher salaries, Surrett noted, salary is a complicated measure to compare because of JMU’s large percentage of career outcomes in areas like teaching. Alger also noted that JMU has a low rate of student loan defaults.
Surrett said when looking at the data broken down by college, the success in career outcomes is relatively even. JMU’s College of Education has the highest rates of continuing education, with roughly 73% seeking an additional degree and 25% going into the workforce. The next largest percentage of those continuing education is the College of Health and Behavioral Sciences with around 63% working and 33% continuing education, followed bythe College of Science and Mathematics with roughly 66% working and 29% continuing education.
A large percentage of JMU graduates stay in Virginia, with around 60% of undergraduates and roughly 75% of advanced degree graduates staying in-state. Surrett also said JMU is producing a particularly large number of teachers and nurses, with a majority staying in Virginia.
Retention rates and equity gaps
Paul Mabrey, the director of the Quality Enhancement Plan, presented information concerning retention rates among JMU students and gaps in equity.
The retention rate for students is the percentage of an incoming class staying for a second year. Since 2013, the retention rate at JMU has decreased from around 92% to 89%, with the only increase occurring in 2020, which Mabrey said JMU believes was due to changes in academic policies like credit and no credit policies.
Despite the decrease, Mabrey said, JMU is leading in retention rates compared to Virginia and R2 research peer institutions. While Mabrey mentioned several reasons for concern over retention rates including commitment to students, he also said that for every 1% in retention loss or gain, it costs JMU $2.4 million.
Mabrey presented several gaps in equity for retention rates, with first-generation, Black, out-of-state, transfer, Hispanic and Pell-eligible students having lower retention rates compared to the average.
Based on exit surveys from spring 2017 to fall 2022 for students leaving JMU, the top five reasons why students left included transferring to a different school, psychological reasons, a leave of absence, fit/belonging reasons and health reasons. Mabrey noted that these reasons are often more nuanced than that, saying the surveys included an open response area where students often expressed a variety of reasons that went into their decision to leave.
Mabrey said JMU is working on several interventions to improve retention rates including pilot programs and other forms of outreach.
Highlights from President’s Report
In his report to the BoV, President Jonathan Alger said in compliance with a state-wide initiative, JMU is increasing open educational resources — learning materials that are designed to be free for students — with a new department in JMU Libraries that assists faculty in finding, using and creating these resources.
About 10% of courses at JMU are already identified as no or low cost. In a survey conducted by JMU last fall, students identified the effect of cost of course materials on their education. Nearly 65% said they didn’t purchase the required textbook for a course, about 35% said they didn’t register for a specific course, over 30% said the cost caused them to earn a poor grade and about 25% said they took fewer courses. Other effects included students dropping, withdrawing from or failing courses.
Alger also announced JMU’s new Reddix Center for First-Generation Students, finalized the night before the meeting. A $1.1 million donation from Angela Reddix (’90) and Carl Reddix (’88) will name the new space on campus and establish the Reddix Centennial Scholarship Endowment.
Committee reports: quick hits
Each committee on the BoV meets the day before the full-board meeting, then provides updates to the board. Here are the highlights.
The board voted to discontinue seven academic programs. The motion was put forth by Matt Gray-Keeling, chair of the Academic Excellence Committee, who said none of these certification programs currently have any students enrolled and no students will be disadvantaged by the removal of them. The programs include: the Autism Spectrum Disorders undergraduate and graduate certificates, the Network and Information Security graduate certificate, the Secure Computer and Database Systems graduate certificate, the Educational Technology Leadership graduate certificate, the International Management of Nongovernmental Organizations graduate certificate; and the designation for Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication.
John Rothenberger, chair of the Finance and Physical Development Committee, announced that after a nationwide search, JMU selected Craig Short (’13) as the new assistant vice president for Business Services. The Business Services office encompasses dining services, facilities management, parking services, the bookstore, emergency management and more. Short will start his new role on Jan. 4.
Rothenberger also laid out JMU’s legislative budget request for 2023-24. JMU will ask the Virginia legislature for $2.2 million to be allocated to three main priorities: student mental health support, expansion of JMU’s Doctorate of Nursing program and establishing a new information technology degree.