New Success Committee keeps students engaged

Story by Kevin Lyon, for The Muleskinner

One of the ways UCM keeps its number of students high is not only through enrollment, but through freshmen retention.

The national average on student retention for most colleges between freshman and sophomore year is 66 percent, while UCM has a 72 percent retention rate.

The rate fluctuates every year, but it shows the number of students who start at UCM one year and are gone the next.

UCM is working to try and change that with the newly formed Student Success Committee.

The Student Success Committee was set up over the summer, and it aims to make it easier for students to stay engaged on campus and to fix the seemingly small problems that keep a lot of students from deciding to stay.

It includes participation from individuals representing diverse groups throughout the campus community.

It consists of a five-member principal steering committee and five rapid-response teams, comprised of 30 faculty, staff and administrative personnel.

“It takes an entire institution to make an effect on a student,” said Rick Sluder, vice provost for enrollment management. “Every student has problems, but we want to make sure that they don’t decide to just leave over them.”

Sluder stressed that UCM is already working on the problem. Everything from advisors working with students, to Spotlight events, to Greek organizations aim to keep students connected to the campus so that they will want to stay at UCM.

“It’s a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Sluder said, “but that isn’t the main point. If we can get just 17 students to stay, that moves the enrollment up by 1 percent. Keeping more people in school can change lives.”

“We want to speak as one voice, and really boost this to the next level,” said Deborah Curtis, provost and chief learning officer for Academic Affairs.

She said UCM is a friendly and welcoming campus, and programs like the Student Success Committee help to make that happen.

“We are focusing on at-risk students,” she said, “the ones who are dealing with pressures they’ve never faced before. First generation students, anyone who needs help, we want to catch them before they fall through the cracks.”

“Stopping small things, like roommate problems or work problems, keeps students in school,” Sluder added.

Members of the committee have prescribed starting the semester off with a  “formative assessment” within the first four weeks, which encourages teachers to give feedback to students and hold them accountable.

The next step is making the syllabus for every class even clearer and making sure that all faculty and professors post and keep their office hours.

The final step enforces attendance, which means many classes are switching over to an attendance policy as part of the grading system.

“We don’t just want more bureaucracy,” Rick Sluder said. “We’re bringing everything together so that all these programs can work together to help students stay in school.”

“Study after study shows that students who are engaged in the community are going to feel like school matters more,” said Shari Bax, vice provost for Student Engagement and Expierience. “There are so many ways to do that on this campus, so we want to spread the word more so students realize that.”

Michael Wright, dean of the college of education, works to help students wherever they are in their academic careers. He is part of the main steering committee that oversees the success committee.

“You notice that students who leave, often the only thing they are connected to is Pine Street,” Wright said.

He focuses on the tiered model of success, where four stages of students are followed by the college.

The first stage is all students, while the fourth stage is students with serious problems, students who face probation, suspension or dismissal from UCM.

Dealing with people before they reach the final stage is essential if UCM wants to boost its retention numbers.

Wright often works with Carl Grigsby, associate professor for educational foundations, meets with new faculty members and helps them connect with their students.

“The teachers are hired because they are good at their subject,” Wright said, “not because they know everything about how we want them to teach. It’s about the pedagogy, the way we teach. We intensely focus on that as soon as new teachers arrive.”

Working to make sure students stay at UCM is about more than just money or numbers on a chart to Sluder.

“College changed my life,” he said. “It can change every students’ life too. Everyone from people who work at dining halls or at front desks, to people like me in administration, we make the campus you go to. We can change it if we all work together.”

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