Retention efforts help students reach finish line

The Mississippi Link Newswire,

The cost of not graduating on time is high, both in terms of additional tuition, room, and board, and lost wages due to the delay in entering the workforce. Mississippi Public Universities understand this and work hard to ensure that students have access to the support services they need to stay in school and graduate on time.

Helping students stay in school and complete their degree is at the heart of Delta State University. DSU faculty and staff create a welcoming environment conducive to teaching and learning that serves as a path to student success. Due in part to campus-wide efforts, since 2013, fall-to-fall retention rates have improved by 3 percentage points, and graduation rates from the 2009 cohort to the 2011 cohort improved by 5 percentage points. Fall 2017 to spring 2018 retention rate of first-time full-time freshmen increased to 89.6 percent and first-time full-time transfer students increased to 89.1 percent – the highest percentage recorded for these groups of students.

Retention efforts focus on big picture items, such as First-Year Seminar, academic maps, and supplemental instruction, to name a few.

Because Delta State believes good teaching and student retention go hand in hand, in March 2018, DSU opened the Gertrude C. Ford Center for Teaching and Learning with an endowment gift of $3 million by the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation. The center provides faculty and chairs with resources, facilitated conversations, workshops, programs, networking opportunities, and individual consultations – all of which have a direct correlation to student retention.

In one example, DSU conducted a study of 4,602 student grades from 314 course sections and found that students taught by faculty who earned a teaching credential through the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) had significantly higher success rates (i.e., better grades, fewer failures and withdrawals) than students taught by faculty who are not yet participating in the program. Delta State improved the prospects of 88 students – approximately 12 percent of the first-year class – and increased the odds of graduating nearly 3 percent more DSU students. Delta State is credentialing all of its new faculty through ACUE and working on a plan to credential all current faculty.

Delta State furthers student retention in many other ways. It has identified two writing-enhanced required upper-level courses for each major to help students fulfill the writing obligations unique to the given discipline. Delta State’s Quality Enhancement Program annually sponsors up to 100 diversity and inclusion campus events – and these opportunities not only educate, they also make students of all backgrounds feel welcome.

Also, Delta State’s McNair Scholars received a highly competitive $1.12 million TRiO grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2018 to increase the attainment of Ph.D. degrees by students who are under-represented, first generational and low income. McNair Research Scholars receive numerous benefits in travel, research stipends, internships, and mentoring – all of which keep them not only in school but also realizing their potential.

Mississippi State University emphasizes the importance of class attendance, beginning in orientation when President Mark Keenum and others echo the same advice: “Go to class.” Parents and students are shown historical data showing the relationship between class attendance and grades. They are shown retention and graduation rates for students who have 0-1 absences per class, 2-3, 4-5 and so on. The university makes it clear – the first step to academic success is to go to class. It’s not the only step; it’s just the first one.

The Pathfinders at MSU program has over a 20-year history of working with students and teachers to improve class attendance. Pathfinders staff encourage attendance reporting by teachers, then monitors attendance data daily. Both Pathfinders staff and residence hall advisors interact with any student who exhibits a class attendance problem. Pathfinders is based on research that showed that missing as few as four classes in one course by a freshman had a substantial negative impact on freshman GPA and graduation six years later.

The Pathfinders program has produced a significant change in the attitudes of students and faculty regarding the importance of regular class attendance and its impact on student success. This change has led to a substantial improvement in graduation rates. Prior to Pathfinders, the six-year graduation rate at MSU averaged 50 percent. Several years after the program began the graduation rate reached 60 percent and has averaged 60 percent since that time.

MSU piloted a summer program during 2018 which encouraged students with ACT sub-scores below 17 to attend the summer II (second summer term, basically the month of July) to take care of their IHL-required remedial class prior to the start of the fall semester. These students lived together in one residence hall, interacted with Center for Student Success staff regularly, and had several group activities each week. The goal of this program was, of course, to enhance their transition to MSU.

MSU enrolls at-risk students in one of several high-interaction classes or programs during their first semester. Using incoming characteristics such as ACT scores and high school grades, at-risk students are identified, and advised during fall registration with the goal of getting each of those students into an appropriate First Year Experience, True Maroon, Freshman Success Strategies, or similar class or program, which is specifically designed to help the student in the transition to college.

Every incoming freshman at Mississippi State is assigned a freshman year navigator – an upperclassman student who helps that student progress through the freshman year. Navigators contact their students at least once a week through email, texting, phone calls or face-to-face meetings.

MSU began offering Supplemental Instruction (SI) in selected classes in 2013. This fall, the university offered SI in 23 classes, providing additional academic support to 4,201 unique students (2,401 of those being freshmen this fall). The Learning Center offers individualized tutoring in over 100 additional subjects.

The university as a whole supports the focus on class attendance – it’s not just something that is preached during orientation and then exercised by the Pathfinders staff. Much like the reporting of progress grades, MSU had 89 percent attendance reporting for freshmen in their classes at the end of the 5th week of classes this fall, and 63 percent for all undergraduates.

Mississippi University for Women recently received a $1.5 million grant over a five-year period from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title III program to implement processes that will improve retention and graduation rates and streamline the student advising process. This nationally competitive grant, under the “Strengthening Institutions,” program is the first of this kind to be the awarded to The W.

Among the programs that The W’s grant will cover will include redesigning intermediate education courses, professional development for intermediate education instructors, release time for faculty-led enhancements and improvements, establishing a peer mentoring program and implementing a web-based tutoring program. A major component covered under the grant is streamlining the advising process.

Goals include expanding targeted counseling services and outreach to faculty, implementing comprehensive training and support program for faculty advisers, establishing advising fellows program for continued professional development and implementing an electronic degree audit and data analytics system titled Degree Works.

All students enrolled in Mississippi Valley State University-University College upon entering the university participate in academic support programs that will ensure for academic success. Their intervention and support programs consist of the following: EMAP, Tutoring, Mentoring, and shared department programs and interventions.

Students are also advised to take advantage of summer school and utilize their summer Pell and other academic recovery opportunities. The university has restructured its retention initiatives to intervene and help students stay on course and works collaboratively with MVSU trio programs to maximize interventions for student success. Tutoring and mentoring programs are vital to intervention, and the university is using the GradeFirst program to help the university track student academic progress and attendance.

The University of Mississippi has made significant progress in increasing retention and graduation rates over the past several years. The 2017 Freshman Cohort achieved the second highest retention rate, 86 percent, in university history. These increases have led to several Center for Student Success & FYE staff members publishing and presenting nationally regarding our student success and persistence efforts.

Some of the tactics used include supplemental instruction, writing center assistance, free tutoring in the math department, school-specific tutoring in pharmacy, engineering, among others, academic support programs, including student success coaching, tutoring clearinghouse, support courses for students on academic probation, academic success workshops, contractual readmission program, targeted efforts to enroll at-risk freshmen in the Freshmen Year Experience course, at-risk flag notification system and follow-up with students receiving low mid-term grades.

The University of Southern Mississippi’s Office of New Student and Retention Programs (NSRP) facilitates a seamless transition to the academic community, fosters student success through high-impact practices and provides intentional programs and services to a diverse population of students and families. NSRP is dedicated to facilitating students’ holistic development through academic support, illuminating strengths and building community. The office aims to provide a suite of comprehensive initiatives that enable students to connect, persist and succeed at The University of Southern Mississippi and beyond.

Student Support Services (SSS) is funded by a $1.3 million five-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education, Federal TRiO Programs, with the mission of providing academic assistance, personal and academic counseling, and individual support to eligible undergraduate students. The primary objectives are to help SSS Scholars maintain good academic standing, persist in college, and graduate from USM.

Academic support is an important component of student success but feeling a part of a community can also have a profound impact on student persistence.

The Holmes Cultural Diversity Center at Mississippi State University offers a variety of programs and events to encourage and develop a climate in which all cultures are appreciated as valued members of the campus community. Two major programs run by the HCDC that will have an impact on student retention are the Black Alumni Mentoring Program and the Building Relationships that Intentionally Develop Generations of Excellent Scholars (B.R.I.D.G.E.S) Program.

Created in fall of 2018, the Black Alumni Mentorship Program is designed to enhance the professional skills of Mississippi State black juniors and seniors at Mississippi State University. Each student is assigned a Black Alumni Mentor for an academic year. The mentor provides the student with professional and personal skills and serves as a guide to aid in preparation for postgraduate opportunities. This program gives the opportunity for alumni to garner healthy relationships with current students, while also connecting students with someone they can identify within their field of study.

The B.R.I.D.G.E.S. Program is designed for racially underrepresented (Black or African American, Hispanic and or Latino, American Indian or Alaskan Native) freshmen, sophomore and transfer students at Mississippi State University. Each student is assigned a MSU faculty or staff mentor for a year to provide the student with professional and personal skills, resources and guidance to aid in the student’s growth and success at Mississippi State University.

Every year, MSU Housing and Residence Life initiates Operation Bulldog with the goal of getting on-campus residents involved and plugged in at Mississippi State. The resident advisor (RA) must host/bring residents to one program per week – Dawg Daze events, floor programs, and area/hall-wide programs specifically. Housing and Residence Life provides programs that allow students to engage with one another and meet others in the community. Programs centers around the D.A.W.G. model  – Diversity and Inclusion, Academics, Wellness, and Gaining Life Skills.  These programs include Fall Fest activities, Club Rice, community service, and participation in Dawg Days and Dawgs After Dark social events.

MSU believes that positive mental health is a cornerstone to a student’s overall development and academic success. The Department of Student Counseling Services’ goal is to provide innovative mental health services to empower students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve overall success.

The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at Mississippi Valley State University is designed to enhance the academic program of studies and facilitate the overall educational experience of students through the development of and participation in social, cultural, and recreational activities. The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement serves as the major programming agency for student life, and as a resource outlet for student organizations.

Student organizations play a key role in programming activities for students. Student Leadership and Engagement offers one of the best opportunities for students to assist with the planning and presentation of activities that will contribute to their intellectual, social, and cultural development through leisure activities. Students’ involvement in extracurricular activities complements the academic experience and challenges them to develop and apply organizational and leadership skills that are useful after college.

The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement is considered an extension of the classroom and an important part of the students’ education. It serves approximately 50 Registered Student Organizations (RSO) as well as student leaders through advisement and coordinating and planning activities. These activities include but are not limited to; Homecoming Comedy Show/Block Party, Concerts, Movie Nights, Mardi Gras Ball/Dance Party, Super Bowl Party, Clubs and Organizations Fair, “Late Nite” Game Night, Karaoke, Open Mic, Coffee House, as well as plays, motivational speakers, seminars and institutes, these are just some of the sponsored activities.

An array of tournaments, (i.e., Pool, Spades, and Dominoes), and are held on a bi-weekly basis in the Jacob Aron Student Union Game Room. We also assist with University sponsored events such as New Student Orientation, Homecoming Week, Student Government Association elections, Mr. /Miss MVSU Showcase, and Founder’s Week.

The University of Mississippi provides one-time retention funds through Financial Aid to assist students and allow them to stay in school. The Office of Fraternal Leadership provides educational opportunities for members and the Office of Leadership and Advocacy organizes a Student Organization Fair and Involvement Dinner to help students become involved.

The Department of Student Housing’s high-touch initiatives, such as Living Learning Communities, at-risk student follow-up, and in-hall educational programing, bring programs to students where they live on campus and the Student Union organizes numerous events to help students get connected.

The Coordinator of Case Management assists students with various hardships to break through those barriers that can prevent them from persisting to graduation.

The Office of Student Disability Services now has new, more efficient, instructor notifications regarding student accommodations and there is also an online retention tool for cross-campus note sharing that helps ensure that all students receive the support they need.

At the University of Southern Mississippi, Academic Connections to Enhance Success (ACES) is a unique program for incoming first-year students to participate in a small community of peers living and learning together. Students selected for the program live in the same residence hall, take courses together, and participate in additional programs and mentoring. ACES gives students a small, supportive community within the larger University.

The Office of Student Ombudsman Services (OSOS) at USM provides a variety of services to help students maintain progress toward degree completion and become aware of the resources available to them. Housed in the Division of Student Affairs, the OSOS serves as a point of contact for parents, addresses issues related to students’ academic progress and personal wellness, and is a liaison between students, faculty members and academic units.

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