San José State University
Patricia Backer, Ph.D., professor of aviation and technology at San José State, is recognized for maximizing a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to increase SJSU's retention and graduation rates.
In 2013, Backer drafted a successful application for a Title III Strengthening grant from the U.S. Department of Education and has since served as the principal investigator for the resulting Project Succeed grant. Project Succeed implemented several strategies to increase graduation and retention rates at SJSU, including block scheduling, peer mentors, a first-year experience (FYE) program, a faculty-staff mentor program, and living learning communities in housing. One of the grant's projects, block scheduling, has led to higher retention and graduation rates for students participating in block scheduled courses compared to those who were not block scheduled. This greatly benefits underrepresented students, whose four-year retention rate was 71 percent for block-scheduled freshmen in 2015 compared to 64 percent for non-block-scheduled freshmen. Because of the success of blocked scheduling for the 2015-2018 cohorts, SJSU has implemented blocked scheduling for all incoming freshmen beginning fall 2019.
Project Succeed also funded FYE programs and a peer mentor program, Peer Connections, which has also been institutionalized at SJSU. Students who participated in Peer Connections had a 90 percent retention rate, while students who did not participate in the program were retained at a rate of 85 percent. Students who participated in the FYE program also had a higher one-year retention rate than the SJSU one-year retention rate.
“Dr. Backer's research and successful drafting of the grant, careful choice of various participants in implementation and the advisory board, direction of external data review, and university-wide collaboration have contributed to a dramatic increase in student success at SJSU," says Cindy Kato, director of Project Succeed at SJSU.