Retention climbs: SSRI program helps, retains students

Angela Roberts holds her phone, waiting for the student to answer her call. On her computer screen is a note from a worried professor, alerting Roberts that the student is struggling. This is the everyday in the Retention office.

The Student Success and Retention Initiative (SSRI), armed with statistics, research and desire to help students, works with students to overcome scholastic challenges. With a multi-dimensional game plan, SSRI has helped retention among first-time full-time students climb 21 percent over the past five years.

Michelle Kearns, director of Student Success and Retention, said, “Well the good news is that at UVU, [drop out rates] are way down. Retention is way up.”

This is due in large part to aggressive strategizing on the part of the department. The SSRI boasts a large array of programs and initiatives, each very focused in its approach to providing support for different groups of students.

One of the first places to look for students who may struggle is among first-time students. With programs such as JumpStart Orientation, a First Year experience course and International Student Orientation, SSRI tries to give these newcomers a soft landing in the college world.

“We’re a commuter campus, and so they have a really hard time feeling connected, and getting to know other students, and building an affinity for UVU,” said Kearns.

Once students feel connected, they are better able to overcome difficulties that may come their way. And more than just feeling connected to campus, students need to find a connection with the people on the campus, explains Kearns.

“When you talk to students about what keeps them in school, it’s often their connection with an academic advisor and with their faculty — just being connected in general. So a lot our efforts are in those areas.”

That’s where employees like Angela Roberts do their work. Roberts, a student herself, works with students on a one-on-one basis. Through the Early Alert program, she gets a heads up on students that may be headed toward failing or even dropping out.

She told one of her success stories:

“Last summer I received an alert about a student who was a repeat alert. She had had some trouble the previous semester, and was going through the same thing again, so I knew it was somebody that I needed to help right away. I e-mailed her and she came into my office to talk about what she could do.”

Roberts then steered the student toward a learning strategist. Learning strategists are members of SSRI that help students with test time management, learning styles, test taking anxiety, and testing skills. The student set up an appointment with the learning strategist, and soon e-mailed Roberts to thank her.

“Thanks so much for the information you provided; it really helped. What I need is to get help with the testing anxiety and be better at multi-tasking while in class and while studying. Thank you again for your help. I’m sure that this will make a difference.”

When asked how this type of success measures against other schools in the state, Program Coordinator Marcy Glassford said that comparisons with most schools in Utah wouldn’t be equal.

“We can’t really compare ourselves to BYU or University of Utah where they only accept students that are already at a certain academic level. So their retention rate is off the charts, whereas we will accept students that are not prepared at all. And they are more likely to struggle.”

She said than instead, our university compares itself  with other schools of the same type. Those sister institutions include Weber State in Utah, as well as several schools across the nation: BYU-Idaho, Boise State, Mesa State, and even as far as University of Alaska Anchorage.

Kearns explains that among sister institutions, our retention department is doing rather well.

“If you compare us with our sister institutions — open-enrollment type schools — we’re in the game, we’re right there where they are. In fact, we’re a little bit higher than some of our comparison group.”

If the past five years is any indication, that success is going to continue.

Top 4 reasons students drop out
Schedule conflicts with work 21.3%
Family responsibilities or child care 15.1%
Courses/programs not available   13.8%
Insufficient financial aid 13.2%

Info Provided by the UVU Student Success
and Retention Initiative

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