In response to my request for ideas about how to improve the retention of students at UCCS, hundreds of ideas were shared. I am extremely pleased by both the quantity and quality of the responses.
The responses have been been culled andare being shared without attribution in an effort to give academic and non-teaching departments a start on developing ideas to improve student retention.
I believe it is important to think of retention as working to connect students to their faculty, a chosen field of study and to the campus. With that definition in mind, I wish to share the ideas of some departments to facilitate these connections.
Connecting with students has never been easy. There are differences in age, culture and life experience that can separate us. It is easy to use those differences as excuses for continuing to do what we have always done. My hope that we can “connect the dots,” not as a way of coddling students but as a way of helping them see the possibilities that lay ahead, possibilities that often can only be achieved with a college education. Our goal as educators must be to prepare the next generation for its rightful place in leading our community, state and nation.
- Department chair visits. During the first two weeks of the semester, department chairs should visit introductory classes to talk about what’s ahead for students. Giving freshman students a peek at what’s ahead in their studies, or even an alumni update or two, can give students – many of whom are still deciding a major – the opportunity to think about their futures.
- Department clubs. A department-specific club that meets regularly connects students with similar interests outside of the classroom and allows them to share ideas and see faculty in an informal environment that is conducive to questions and exchanges.
- Profession–focused introductory courses. Some departments are using a combination of guest speakers from the community, as well as campus faculty, to explain the career possibilities within a particular field of study. This can help students connect with each other and to learn where their degree can take them.
- Student employment. The data are clear. Students who work on campus are more successful, graduating at higher rates than those who were not employed on campus. I believe holding a campus job where a supervisor has high standards while recognizing the importance of academic coursework is of great benefit to students. In many cases, supervisors become surrogate family members, offering encouragement and guidance for issues outside of the workplace.
- EXCEL academic centers. There is a direct correlation between the success of students who use the Centers for Academic Excellence or EXCEL Centers. Faculty should refer – or even require –students to visit the centers with confidence. The centers are a safe space to learn difficult subjects for which high school may not have prepared students.
- Student success coaches. All freshmen are assigned a coach, someone who calls, emails or schedules a face-to-face meeting to remind them of deadlines, answer questions and help them through rough spots, both academic and nonacademic. Success coaches can benefit students we once considered at-risk, often as a result of an early-alert system about academic difficulty. Faculty should participate in the early-alert system, use Blackboard so that students get updates on their progress, and encourage students to reach out to their coach.
- Funding for informal faculty-student contact. This idea encouraged departments to plan events that connect faculty and freshman students in informal ways.
- Freshman-focused faculty. Invite faculty interested in working with freshmen to play a leading role in teaching a Gateway Program Seminar or in the new University Studies program. Those with experience and interest in working in support of freshmen, and in a coordinated way with student success staff, are encouraged to take part in these initiatives.
- Leaders at lunch. Eating with students at either the Roaring Fork or Café 65 is a good way to connect. Students could select faculty with whom they want to dine with the faculty member’s meal paid for by Food and Dining Services. There is such a thing as a free lunch.
- Aptitude testing. As part of an expanded academic advising effort, provide incoming students with aptitude tests as a way of helping them find a major that is a good fit personally and academically.
- Advisor contact. Students who meet with their advisors are more successful. Faculty should encourage students to meet with their advisor regularly and promote them as a resource.
- Class sizes. Consider a pilot effort for courses with traditionally high failure rates to reduce class sizes with the same instructor teaching both lecture and lab sections to ensure continuity.
- Department workshop. A campus department required a workshop for all newly declared majors twice during the academic year. The workshop welcomed the newly declared majors, allowed them to meet others with similar interests, and learn what was ahead.
- Intervention strategies. Adopt a campus-wide focus on retention including a framework for escalating strategies as warranted by students in need.
This is a sampling of the hundreds of ideas that I received. I want to thank everyone who responded to my request and who shared thoughts. There are no simple solutions to helping students connect. Human behaviors are complex and the pressures that students face are often intense. We must recognize that students’ challenges affect their academic outcomes, and that part of our job as educators is to help them find ways to be successful.
My hope is that throughout the spring semester there will be informal discussions among individual faculty members as well as formal department and college-specific discussions about what we, both individually and collectively, can do to ensure that students are given every opportunity to be successful at UCCS.