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LU alumna Alisa Fryar delivers lecture at undergraduate conference

Alisa Fryar, associate professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, was the keynote speaker at the fourth annual Undergraduate Research Conference on Humanities, Arts, Social and Behavioral Sciences and Business and Education, November 18 at the Reaud Honors College, and involved about 38 students engaged in research and scholarly work.  

The Lamar University alumna’s presentation focused on projects that look at using incentives to improve graduation rates on a state level.

“The rationale is strong, the goal is important, and the solution seems so obvious. But these policies Karen’t working,” said Fryar. She spoke on, “why and how we can look for better ways to support institutions that are working to improve student outcomes.”

Fryar, who holds a Ph.D. in political science from Texas A&M, said that her current research was sparked by her curiosity while involved in the Student Government Association (SGA) at Lamar.

“I remember going to events for prospective students and freshmen, and then comparing those students to the students at commencement,” said Fryar. “They didn’t look the same, and I wanted to know why.”

“I was fortunate to have many professors and leaders at Lamar who helped me understand more about how universities work,” said Fryar.  

In SGA, Fryar had the opportunity to sit in on a wide range of faculty and administrative meetings about funding, curriculum, master planning, and many other issues.

“It was a huge part of my education at Lamar,” said Fryar. “I was lucky to receive a lot of good advice and ended up in a job where I can spend my time trying to figure these things out.”

Her current research hones in on how state policies and college leaders influence student success and graduation rates.

“I’m often surprised by how little we know about some of the most basic questions in higher education,” said Fryar. “At most universities, very few leaders and faculty truly know how much it costs to go to that institution, where our students hit obstacles on their path to graduation, and why students make the choices they make.”

Fryar said she recognized this problem at a meeting with policy experts. She was told that the goal of the faculty was to research and get jobs at ‘better’ institutions, rather than care about students finishing college.

“I was a little offended! That’s not what I saw at Lamar and not what I’ve seen at many other regional universities,” said Fryar.

After looking around, “I realized that only a couple of us had any experience at a regional university,” said Fryar. “Policy experts and policymakers often come from the most expensive, elite institutions, and they make decisions based on the assumption that every high school senior takes the SAT, applies to 10-15 colleges, chooses a college based on scholarship offers, and then packs up their belongings to live in the dorms for four years while they learn from the great thinkers, study abroad, and apply for prestigious internships. But that’s not true at all.”

Fryar said that her experiences have enabled her to recognize the diversity in student’s college paths.

“We can’t make good policy when we are making decisions based on faulty assumptions,” said Fryar, “Although I am just one voice, I hope that I can make a small difference in how people think about policy decisions. I try to use those motivations to improve my own teaching and leadership for my current students too.”

Fryar’s work looks at performance-based funding and state policies that link funding to student outcomes. She has been focusing on these topics for the past six years.

“I want my work to help policymakers know more about how decisions are made by university

leaders and how those decisions influence how colleges support their students,” said Fryar. “I’m encouraged to see so many people and organizations looking to find ways to support students, but I want to know if these efforts are likely to work.”

Fryar’s newest research endeavor hits close to home.

“When Harvey started closing in on Southeast Texas, I had the opportunity to begin conversations with Vice Provost Brenda Nichols about the challenges that Lamar would face in the coming days and week,” said Fryar. “Those conversations led to an exciting but unexpected new project on higher education and disaster response.”

In her time at Lamar, Fryar attained a B.S. in political science and was SGA president in 2002.

“It feels really great to come back,” said Fryar. “Lamar has done so much for me, and I’m excited to meet current students and hear about their work.”