Willamette reports inaccurate data on the academy


Willamette reports inaccurate data on the academy

2:39 p.m. PDT March 18, 2016

Willamette University officials used inaccurate data when deciding to dramatically reduce the size of its Willamette Academy college prep program for underserved students.

University president Stephen Thorsett admitted to the error in a letter sent Thursday to students and staff.

One of the key measures cited in a report about the academy was the college graduation rate of students who attended Willamette Academy. An early report showed that only 22 percent of Academy students eventually attended and graduated from college. But a second look at the data showed the college graduation rate was actually 37 percent, Thorsett said.

He said changes to the Academy will be altered for the coming academic year in response to this error.

npate@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6745, or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

Here’s the text of Thorsett’s letter:

Dear Willamette Community,

Changes at Willamette Academy have generated conversations across our campus and in the Salem-Keizer community over the last couple of months. In the past few weeks, students, community members and professor Emily Drew, among others, questioned the accuracy of data on the graduation and success rate of Willamette Academy students who have enrolled at Willamette.

These data were drawn from an internal 2014-15 program review provided to the Willamette Academy Task Force, and had not previously drawn criticism.

Out of a desire to bring clarity to this important issue, I directed our institutional research office to complete a thorough review of the data on student success.  An independent review has been slow and challenging because of limitations in Academy records.

The review has brought clarity, and a reminder to be open to those who question. The data shared by me and others with the community on student success in the program review are inaccurate. In fact, success rates for Willamette Academy students who attended Willamette University according to institutional research data are not less than 50 percent, as recorded in the program review, but much higher.

Since 2007, the earliest data that’s available for Willamette Academy completion, four students have left Willamette while 14 students have graduated, with 25 in process.

Data on overall post-secondary degree or certificate completion of Willamette Academy graduates also show a higher success rate, from about 22 percent cited in the report to nearly 37 percent based on cross referencing Willamette Academy student data with national college attendance databases.

I am deeply sorry this inaccurate data was distributed, and especially for my own reliance on it in my communications about the Academy. I offer my sincere apology to Academy students and families, Willamette students, faculty, and staff members and our friends in the community for additional pain and stress this may have caused.

Like so many others in our community, I care deeply about the Academy and the students and families it serves.

Today, I am asking Mike Moon, director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, to conduct a thorough audit of the data reported in the 2014-15 Program Review, comparing also with data gathered by Academy students and alums, Drew and others, reporting back to me by May 15.

I’ve asked Dean David Douglass to take over Willamette Academy’s day-to-day operations through the end of this academic year.

In order to allow the time for fully informed consideration of the data and task force recommendations, Interim Executive Director Jacqueline Rushing and I agree that it is important that all current Academy students be welcomed back for the 2016-17 academic year, as long as they meet the program’s previously stated enrollment criteria.

Several important updates to the program will still need to be implemented, including addressing safety and security issues for Willamette Academy students and staff members.

Programmatic evolution, including development of stronger college bridge components to support first and second year Willamette University students, will continued to be overseen by Jacqueline Rushing. Funding for the program was already committed and will be allocated as planned.

We will contact families personally over the next week to share these updates and to address any questions or concerns they may have.

The goal remains the same: To come together to make Willamette Academy the exemplar we all desire.



Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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