Student Achievement and the success of students in achieving those goals

According to Section 8 of the 2018 SACSCOC Resource Manual for the Principles of Accreditation: Foundations for Quality Enhancement, a SACSCOC member institution must demonstrate compliance with Core Requirement 8.1 which concerns Student Achievement. The following statement is published in the Resource Manual: “The institution identifies, evaluates, and publishes goals and outcomes for student achievement appropriate to the institution’s mission, the nature of the students it serves, and the kinds of programs offered. The institution uses multiple measures to document student success.”


Fisk University evaluates student achievement consistent with its mission. The mission of Fisk University is as follows: “Fisk University produces graduates from diverse backgrounds with the integrity and intellect required for substantive contributions to society. Our curriculum is grounded in the liberal arts. Our faculty and administrators emphasize the discovery and advancement of knowledge through research in the natural and social sciences, business, and the humanities. We are committed to the success of scholars and leaders with a global perspective.”


The following sections highlight student achievement in key areas, including enrollment, retention, graduation rates, and job placement.


The goals for student achievement are stated in the Institutional Effectiveness Planning and Reporting forms.  Administrators in the Division of Enrollment Management and Student Engagement identify their 1) Unit Objectives, 2) Expected Outcomes and Assessment Tools, 3) Actual Assessment Results, and 4) Use of Results. The Unit Objectives list the annual goals of a particular administrative unit within the Division. The success of the unit is recorded in the “Actual Assessment Results” section of the Institutional Effectiveness Planning and Reporting forms. The success of our students within the Division of Academic Affairs is recorded on these forms. The Institutional Effectiveness Planning and Reporting forms for the following units can be found in the Office of Institutional Assessment and Research: Academic Engagement and Student Performance (AESP), Career Services, Residence Life, Registrar’s Office, and Student Engagement.


Fisk University is in compliance with Core Requirement 8.1. The following enumerated subtitles illustrate the success of Fisk University students in response to this Core Requirement.


The first student achievement measure selected by the institution is enrollment.

In 2017, the institution set a goal of 250 first-time, full-time students as a threshold of acceptability value for this measure. This goal number was based on the need to stabilize progress indicators with numbers that are seasonable, given the national climate of declining enrollment at many traditional university systems similar to Fisk.  An aspirational achievement target is 1000 students enrolled at Fisk by fall 2021.




Minimum Threshold of         Acceptability Aspirational Achievement Target  


Enroll 250 First-time, full-time students per year; 850 Fall enrolled 1000 students by


Year Fall 2017 Fall 2018 Fall 2019 Fall 2020 4 Year Average  
Enrollment 701 780 874 912 814  
First-time, full-time Student Target 250   250   250   250 250    
First-time, full-time student actual 132   293   324   251 250    
Annual Change -118 +43 +74 +1    


Recent trends in enrollment show that from 2017- to 2020 the University has experienced a steady increase in its student population. There has been a steady increase from 701 students in Fall 2017 to 780 students in Fall 2018, followed by a leap in student numbers, with 874 students enrolled in Fall 2019. These overall increases were driven by steady retention rates averaging 80%, and Fall 2018, 2019, and 2020 above average with first-time, full-time student actual increases of +293, +324, and +251 new students added per year.  The institution has kept tuition and fees flat for the past four years. The enrollment data in the table above were reported to the U.S. Department’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) via the IPEDS Fall Enrollment Survey. The data were published in the IPEDS Fall Enrollment Survey from the Fall of 2017 to the Fall of 2020.

The second student achievement measure selected by the institution is retention rates.

This measure was selected because the retention of first-time, full-time degree-seeking students is a standard metric that Fisk tracks and reports to federal and state governing bodies each year. In addition, Fisk considers retention rates to be significant indicators of student success in the matriculation process toward graduation, degree attainment, and ultimate career readiness.  In 2015, the institution set 75% as a threshold of acceptability value for this measure because the institution uses a measure of 10% points higher than the average results of the IPEDS comparison peer groups as the threshold of acceptability for this indicator.  Further, the institution established the strategic/aspirational goal of 83% for the retention rate by 2021-2022. This goal was established because the institution needs to provide itself a mechanism to monitor annually whether it sustains a general upward trajectory in this retention metric within the operational window of the Strategic Plan 2018-2022.  This is also in line with national benchmarks.


According to IPEDS data, for first-time, full-time degree-seeking undergraduate students who entered 4-year degree-granting institutions in Fall 2018, the overall retention rate in Fall 2019 was 81 percent.




Minimum Threshold of         Acceptability Achievement Target    
Retention 75% first-time, full-time undergraduate fall students who return next fall 83% retention of students by


  Fall 2016 Fall 2017 Fall 2018 Fall 2019
Retention Target 75% 75% 75% 75%
Retention Actual 78% 81% 81% 78%

Data on retention are also collected for comparison on peer institutions over a five-year period.

The third student achievement measure selected by the institution is course completion.

In fall 2017, the institution set a target of 89% passing grades as a threshold of acceptability value for this measure, based on a 2-percentage point increase of the five-year average of 88% course completion rate from 2012 to 2016.  Furthermore, the institution established the aspirational achievement target of 91% for the course completion rate for 2021-2022.



Minimum Threshold of Acceptability


Achievement Target


  Course Completion 89% passing grades 91% passing grades by 2021-2022
 Year Fall   2016-17 Fall 2017-18 Fall   2018-19  Fall 2019-20  
Number of A Grades: 1219 1221 1280  1493  
Number of B Grades: 477 416 470 546  
Number of C Grades: 344 342 337  341  
Number of D Grades: 203 162 217  188  
Number of F Grades: 296 232 321  330  
Total Number of Passing Grades 2240 2141 2304 2568  
Total Num. of Failing Grades 364 232 321 330  
Overall Total Num of Grades 2607 2373 2625 2898  
Num. of Classes Offered 199 198 193 230  
Per. of Passing Grades 86% 90% 88% 89%  
Per. of Failing Grades 11% 10% 12% 11%  

In academic year 2016, course completion rates had declined to 86% after hovering around 88% the prior three years.  In response to this decline, the University conducted an analysis of student course performance in lower and higher-level courses.  The results of the analysis revealed that inadequate preparation and excessive absences by students played a major role in the course failure rate.  In response to these findings, University faculty developed and incorporated frequent quizzes and supplemental instruction into the curriculum.  As a result of these and other adjustments in 2017, the University’s course completion rate increased four percentage points to 90%, with a three-year average of 89% for fall 2017, 2018, and 2019.

The fourth student achievement measure selected by the institution is graduation rates.

IPEDS traditional graduation rates were chosen because they allow for comparison with similar peer institutions across the country as to consistently monitor improvements.  Accordingly, the goal for Fisk’s graduation rate is of first-time, full-time students is to meet or exceed the average of peer institutions.  The university reviewed the graduation rates of peer and aspirational institutions of our IPEDS comparison groups to set our targets as to remain higher than our peers and strive to close the gap with aspirational institutions.  In 2016, the institution set 49% as a threshold of acceptability value for this measure, which was based on making sure that our threshold was above the 6-year average. Further, the institution established the strategic/aspirational goal of 52% for the graduation rate. This rate was established because it exceeds the average of IPEDS peer institutions by at least 10 percentage points for each of the years displayed.

Criteria Minimum Threshold of Acceptability Achievement Target
Graduation rates 49% 52% by 2021-2022
Years 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
Fisk Four-year Graduation Rate (as of August 31st) 36% 42% 37% 38%
Fisk Five-year Graduation Rate (as of August 31st) 42% 48% 43% 46%
Fisk Six-year Graduation Rate (as of August 31st) 44% 52% 44% 47%

Although the 8-year IPEDS comparative peer group is a national sample as opposed to state or metropolitan and city peers, Fisk’s activities to improve graduation rates for the 8-year period were indistinguishable from our 4-year, 5-year, and 6-year activities.

The fifth student achievement measure selected by the institution is Job Placement Rate. The institution defines Job Placement Rate as being calculated by dividing the number of graduates employed in the field by the number of graduates available for employment from each program.  Based on the strategic goals described in the Fisk University 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, job placement rates are central to carrying out the institution’s strategic plans, goals and objectives.  Specifically, the first goal of the plan states the institution will “provide an environment which will develop students intellectually, personally, and professionally to the greatest extent of their abilities by: Providing professional development opportunities for students to enhance their readiness for jobs; and (b) Developing co-curricular opportunities that enhance student’s career competitiveness.” This measure was selected because it is central to a graduating student’s career opportunities. In this way, the institution is committed to continue working to improve employability of graduates.



Minimum Threshold of Acceptability Aspirational Achievement Target

job placement rates

30% obtaining Jobs within one yr. grad 33% by 2021-2022
Year   2017 2018 2019 2020
Num.   Job in Field   53 42 26 15
Total Number Grads   100 150 120 77
Per. obtaining Jobs within one yr. grad   53% 28% 22% 19%
Per. With No Info/ Other or Unemployed   18% 55% 57% 63%

The Office of Career Development (OCD) utilizes two surveys which include an evaluation of five years analysis of the OCD goals as well as a survey of all graduating undergraduate students. The survey-based on five years of data collection revealed that the percent of students employed decreased approximately 10% from 2017-2020.  An increase of approximately 5% is shown for the year 2020-2021.  It is interesting to note that those considering a current job offer rose to 72% for the 2020-2021 year after double-digit decreases from the year 2016-2020.  The spring 2021 data documents this increase.

For those students employed during the years 2016-2017 and 2019-2020, the data reflect that the employment was directly related to their major.  Yet there is great variability in the data showing the relationship of employment to the student’s major.  During the years 2017-2020, between 20%-30% of the students planned to attend graduate school.

The results of this process revealed that, between 2015-2017, job placement rates have steadily increased.  For example, a study of the 2015 graduates revealed that only 27 students, 34% of the total, obtained jobs in their field of study, within one year of graduation.

In 2016, the institution set 23% as a threshold of acceptability value for this measure based on graduate school attendance. This is appropriate because the institution has averaged 20% graduate school attendance over the prior 5 years.  Furthermore, the institution established the strategic/aspirational goal of 25% for graduate school attendance. This aspirational goal was established based on a need to raise the bar in assisting students to improve their skills level in a work environment that increasingly requires a graduate education to advance from entry-level employment in many fields.

Criteria Minimum Threshold of Acceptability Achievement Target

Graduate School

22% in graduate school 25% in graduate school

By 2021-2022

Year   2017 2018 2019 2020
Number of Undergraduate Graduates May & December   100 150 120 77
Number in Graduate School   29 26 25 14
Percent in Graduate School   29% 17% 21% 18%

Review of institutional data revealed that between 2014 and 2018 an average of 21% of undergraduate completers attended at least one year of graduate school, within five years of completing degree programs at Fisk University.  However, this average is below national averages which stand at 29%.  Performance has also been somewhat inconsistent.  For example, in 2014-15, 20% of graduating students entered a graduate degree program within one year of graduation.  Two years later 29% of graduates garnered admission to a graduate degree program.  However, in 2017-18, overall performance fell 12 points to 17%.  In response to this decline, the University signed new graduate school partnerships with the University of California-Irvine, and with several other smaller institutions.  In addition to these enhancements, the University increased collaboration with Vanderbilt University.  These and other initiatives helped to stabilized graduate school attendance around an average of 20% over the next two years, 2019 and 2020.  In sum, serious initiatives are being carried out to increase graduate school attendance, along with employment, after graduation.