Not so long ago, students at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City whose semester grade-point averages fell below a certain level were placed on academic probation. But it did very little to get them the help they needed.
Probation “did nothing,” says Adrian Juchau, director of student support. “Not a single student was responsive to that.” It was only when a student’s cumulative GPA went below a certain level that the hammer was dropped, in the form of suspension from classes. Instead of seeking the support they needed, many students simply didn’t come back, contributing to LDSBC’s low retention and graduation rates. Something had to change.
“We knew our college was growing, and we needed to develop resources and streamline processes,” says Lori Ransom, manager of academic advising. “Because of that we started looking at the at-risk factor, those students who are on probation, and noticed that the retention rate wasn’t where we wanted it to be.”
Understaffed, lacking an effective intervention mechanism, and without a good way to support and track the progress of at-risk students, officials set about tackling all three obstacles.
First, they advertised among the community for volunteer help. The call was answered by retired educators, counselors, and businesspeople looking for ways to give back to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns and operates the college. These volunteers became one-on-one mentors to at-risk students.
In the intervention area, the college, no longer satisfied with just snail mail, began sending emails to give at-risk students more immediate feedback on their academic standing and to offer them help.
To track progress, LDSBC leveraged its learning management system, provided by BrainHoney, to create a customized plan for each at-risk student to follow as they meet with their mentors and embark on follow-up. In addition, academic advisors use the LMS data to monitor progress more accurately. In the past, they had often relied on student self-reporting.
The results of the changes were striking. Once students put on probation began receiving earlier and more comprehensive information about the availability of support services, 73 percent returned for the next semester, far above the historic rate of 50 percent. Two-thirds of those who came back successfully completed that semester, up from less than a third historically. Those numbers have only increased in the two years since.
For the students, all of the changes come together to convey a simple, clear message, says Ransom. “There is help available, one-on-one help available. We’re seeing more people trying to come back now that they know they can get help. We could not have done that before.”
One financial positive is that, by deploying volunteer mentors, officials estimate the school has saved tens of thousands of dollars. And with greater retention, the college was able to take in hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in tuition revenue.