Published on 2012/08/20
—Co-written with Lynette Olson | Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Pittsburg State University—

Higher education administrators are being forced to find lower cost ways of improving student success and retention. Photo by Zimmytws.

Our institution, which is a regional, state-assisted university in rural southeastern Kansas, must sustain or grow its student population in order to fulfill its mission of serving the citizens of the state and region. We have always prided ourselves on being an institution that puts students first, focusing on student learning facilitated by excellent teachers.

Like universities throughout the country, the university’s budget has been severely affected by the economic downturn of recent years, and tuition revenues have taken on increased importance in sustaining quality programs and services.

The two factors determining tuition revenue – the number of students paying and the tuition rate they pay – present the University with particular challenges. The effect of the economic downturn on families in an already low income area and the presence of multiple more affordable institutions in the market (eight public community colleges within a seventy mile radius), remove significant increases in tuition as an option. Nevertheless, we continue to implement modest increases to preserve quality and to make strategic enhancements in programs and services. A process is in place that ensures faculty and student voice in tuition discussions so that understanding of and buy in to any increase is achieved.

Given the limits of using tuition increases to advance the University, we look to the challenges and opportunities in enrollment.  Population trends for Kansas and the region and competition for these students are our challenges, and while we have undertaken a number of recruiting initiatives, student success for those who do enroll, with its byproduct retention, has taken on increased importance. Focusing on student success and retention has always been the right thing to do, but it has never been as much a practical necessity as it is today.

Our efforts to improve student success have been guided by the work of our Enrollment Management Council in assessing the environment and making recommendations to enhance student success.  The role of the Provost and the associate vice president has been to move viable recommendations toward implementation. This has involved gaining support from constituent groups such as the President’s Council, the Provost’s Leadership Council (academic deans) and the Faculty Senate as well as individual faculty members in key departments.  There has also been the need to reallocate resources and to direct new resources gained from the strategic initiatives portion of tuition increase. Allocation of new resources is always in competition with other deserving initiatives.

Our “no or low” cost initiatives have included:

  • Changes in academic policies or processes regarding academic progress, midterm grade reports, honor roll criteria and financial aid satisfactory progress appeals;
  • Changes to enhance and better focus the freshman experience course – resource repository, training for student assistants, required common topics, learning outcomes assessment plan, linked sections to selected majors’ courses.
  • Tutoring support for selected high enrollment, high risk courses, both group and online.

Initiatives requiring a more significant investment and early in implementation include:

  • Student success counselor to enhance programming and to engage in proactive advising interventions.
  • Expanded staff and services through the writing center and relocation to the library.
  • Implementation of “early alert” through CRM system.

To yet be accomplished are initiatives to optimize use of academic instructional space including both scheduling policy and renovations and creation of a Student Success Center to centralize important academic services.

While many of our efforts are in progress and undergoing their initial evaluation, we look forward to positive outcomes from this multifaceted approach.  In fact, discussions leading to implementation have elevated the issues of student success and retention and heightened awareness throughout the campus, which in itself is an important component, if not the most important, of a comprehensive plan.

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Readers Comments

Bill Myers 2012/08/21 at 8:50 am

I like the concept syou have put forth, especially altering the first-year experience to ensure students are being guided toward outcomes and ensuring they have the support in place to help them get there. Even altering the honor roll criteria to (presumably) allow more students to see their name on the list and take pride in their work, that makes sense and is an easy way to convince someone to come back next year.

I don’t understand what changes in academic policies or processes regarding academic progress means… are you lowering standards to help students pass? The same goes for the midterm grade report changes.

Bill ivy 2012/08/21 at 9:12 pm

Bill,

The honor roll initiative was extending that honor to part-time students after 12 hours of accumulated part-time work. Previously they were ineligible.

We were not able to move the midterm grade reports as early in the semester as hoped. We were able to get better faculty participation. Early alert will help us interact with students at risk well before midterms.

We changed our academic probation/dismissal policy to use GPAs rather than grade points (easier for students to understand) and put into policy that everyone gets a probation semester before dismissal. This could be seen as lowering standards, but we felt it brought us in line with most of our peers.

hope this helps with your questions.
Bill Ivy

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