Garcia's visit came as part of a statewide Colorado Completes! effort to promote student retention, persistence and graduation. The Western Competes! event recognized the university's PRIME program, while also highlighting other programs that promote student success at Western.
PRIME, which stands for Promoting Readiness in Math and English, is one of eight programs – selected out of 30 entries from across the state – cited for noteworthy success. And Western is the only university or college on the Western Slope to be recognized. PRIME is an innovative learning community that helps students build skills in university-level math, reading and writing. Since PRIME began during fall semester 2009, freshmen-to-sophomore retention rates for its participants have risen steadily and dramatically, from 21.43 percent five years ago to an impressive 68.42 percent for the 2012 cohort.
Western sophomore Tykia "Peanut" Willis, a Biology major who aspires to be a physician, came to Gunnison from Greensboro, N.C. She attributes her success at Western to her experience in the PRIME program.
"I'm the only person in my family who went to college," she said. "The close relationships I developed at Western gave me confidence that I could graduate and go on to have a great career. My professors taught me that failure was not an option."
Lt. Gov. Garcia, who has visited seven other universities across the state to recognize student-success programs, says Western's efforts showcase the importance of giving students the extra help they need to stay in college and graduate.
"Too many students feel like they don't belong on a college campus," Garcia said. "We need to change that, and Western's efforts are a great example for other universities."
Western President Dr. Greg Salsbury told the gathering that small colleges like Western create a supportive, empowering environment to help students prepare for the world after college.
"This is an excellent showcase of the Western difference," he said. "If you talk to students who were turned around by a college, you'll find out it wasn't the institution that helped them. It was the people."
Salsbury cited successful Western alumni such as 1993 graduate Sean Markey. Markey spent 10 years after high school working as a truck driver. He had graduated high school with a 1.8 grade-point average. His education at Western challenged him, and he was closely mentored by his professors. Markey is now a neurosurgeon in Denver and one of the university's most significant financial supporters.
Western also featured other student-success programs at the event, including the school’s First-Year Experience, Supplemental Instruction, Concurrent Enrollment and Academic Resource Center.