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Models of Excellence: Student success starts early

Honored programs start newcomers on the right foot to keep them in college
University Business, August 2015
  • Valdosta State University
  • The University of Arizona
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Odessa College
  • California State University, San Bernardino
  • Culver-Stockton College

Today’s progressive student success initiatives start even before first semester classes convene. The colleges and universities honored in the second round of UB’s national Models of Excellence awards program have found that easing students’ transition from high school to higher ed increases the likelihood they will remain enrolled and graduate.

But an “easy” transition doesn’t come without some hard work on behalf of students, administrators and instructors.

At one large state university, students who’ve fallen behind in math receive intensive instruction during the summer before classes start. Only 8 percent of the university’s new students needing remediation were graduating within four years. Administrators also wanted to forge closer connections to the commuter campus, which is home to only about 1,400 of the university’s 19,000 students.

The program requires first-year students who are in need of remediation to live on campus for a month while they take remedial classes, as well as participate in other university engagement activities.

On the college affordability front, one state flagship university makes it easier for first-year students to find the private scholarships for which they’re most qualified. The university’s expansive scholarship database even asks students questions to improve the accuracy of the matching process. Students can use the system to store important scholarship documents and letters of recommendation, as well.

At yet another large state school, early success efforts focus on first-year minority students. Determined to increase graduation rates for African Americans and Hispanics, this university encourages these students to participate in a leadership program that offers weekly meetings on study skills, resource management, networking and other topics.

Our honorees also have established initiatives that build on early success efforts. To improve retention of first-year students, a small Midwestern college introduced the “Passport to Success” program. First-year students receive a printed passport and get stamps for participating in campus engagement and educational support activities. Students who complete all 17 activities can get 100 percent in their First Year Experience course. And so far, the retention rate has increased 11 percent.

Dropout prevention also saw a unique approach from this round’s community college honoree: A renewed focus on how instructors motivate students to stay in school. Administrators urged instructors to emphasize four practices: getting to know all students by name, intervening when students are struggling, building relationships by spending time with each student, and providing a clear syllabus.

This round of honorees demonstrates that zeroing in early and often— and bringing creativity and innovation to the process—leads to greater success for students further on in their higher ed and post-college careers. You can read the honorees' stories, and apply for a future round of Models of Excellence, here.

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