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Getting to Know Dr. Toya Barnes-Teamer

Getting to Know Dr. Toya Barnes-Teamer

Dr. Toya Barnes-Teamer used to watch educators struggle to boost graduation rates, and when she had a chance to do something about it, she took it. Last March, Barnes-Teamer stepped up to the newly created position of vice president for student success at Dillard University.

Her focus now is on improving the 64 percent school-wide retention rate, which was reported in the 2004-05 academic year, even before Katrina hit. Nine units report directly to Barnes-Teamer, including enrollment management, financial aid, student support services, the registrar and the chaplain’s office.

Nationally, positions like Barnes-Teamer’s are popping up more and more. Accrediting agencies, as well as the U.S. Department of Education, are scrutinizing schools everywhere to determine whether officials are investing comparable resources in students after they enroll. The positions vary from campus to campus, but many have names featuring “success” and “enhancement.”

“It’s cheaper to keep a student than it is to bring in another,” says Barnes-Teamer, who likens the effort to that of corporations that try to retain employees rather than risk having to hire and train new ones. “When you have happy graduates, you have happy alumni, and they make your best recruiters.”

Dillard has already initiated changes to improve the student experience. For instance, Barnes-Teamer says it is the financial aid officials that now award scholarships, rather than the enrollment management officials doing so as well, Barnes-Teamer says. The dual system used to confuse students because, during the recruitment process, they would be under the impression they would expect to receive an amount of financial aid, but would receive a lesser amount by the time they registered and had to deal with the financial aid shortfall.

A native of New Orleans, Barnes-Teamer was formerly senior vice president for academic and student affairs for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. She became interested in student recruitment and retention during a work-study job at Loyola University-New Orleans, where she earned a bachelor’s in graphic art/communication and a master’s in guidance and counseling. At the time, she helped arrange campus tours for prospective students and was often asked by enrollment officials her opinion on diversity outreach.

“When I was a student, it frustrated me that no one focused on maintaining students,” says Barnes-Teamer, who holds a doctorate in higher education administration from the University of New Orleans. “My passion was really around students — and still is.”

— By Lydia Lum

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