Spencer Parker had a plan: Take his high school volleyball stardom to college, spend a couple of years at a smaller school to develop his academic and athletic skills, then move on to a larger setting. Become a volleyball star on a bigger stage. But the nagging desire to play college football, the lingering effect of a successful season as high school quarterback, was relentless.
Like a script in a movie, Parker transferred from that smaller college (which he loved) to become a walk-on tight end for Division 1 UConn and the star playmaker in a primetime college football game last month against football powerhouse Michigan. This is where the smaller school’s story begins. Lasell College was the small school that nurtured him. Lasell celebrated him as a freshman when he was named to the first-team All-Great Northeast Athletic Conference for volleyball and gave him the footing and academic standing to reach his dreams.
That’s exactly what we should do – help students reach their potential, reach for the stars. At Lasell, we do that hundreds of times a year, but like other schools, we don’t get to count it. Graduation rates, as currently reported, calculate the percentage of an entering cohort of freshmen that graduates within four, five, or six years from the date of entry.
These graduation rate calculations fail to recognize the mobility of today’s students — the transferring among schools and the stopping and starting that characterize many students’ college careers. Some small institutions, including ours, admit freshmen for whom college is the place to acquire rather than build upon existing intellectual curiosity. Those students may find their intellectual legs at a small college, and transfer to a much larger school to follow the course of study they discovered at the smaller one. Others, like Spencer Parker, may have athletic dreams that only come to fruition after two years of success at a smaller school.
If these students go on to graduate from a larger school, has the smaller one failed in its job? No.
We’ve done exactly what we should do for students and student–athletes. Help them achieve as well-rounded people. Similarly, transferring students are not included in the accepting school’s graduation rate calculation. In the case of small colleges like ours, neither the student who transfers out and graduates, nor the one who transfers in and remains through graduation are accounted for in the graduation rate.
College is a business, yes. And, to be successful we need to retain students from freshman orientation through senior week. But our business is also one about helping individuals evolve and succeed, become adults, and make the best choices they can to achieve their goals.
Lasell played a part in helping Spencer Parker gain the athletic confidence and academic credentials he needed to reapply to UConn and walk on to its football field. That is why we celebrated with the rest of UConn when he caught his first touchdown pass of the season.
He’s our success story too.
Michael Alexander is president of Lasell College in Newton, MA.