By: 
Thomas W. Durso
Honoree: 
Southeast Technical Institute

The idea was this: Require students who have lost “good standing” status—due to academic hiccups or financial troubles—to pay for a two-credit course needed to regain that standing.

But it did not elicit the negative reactions anticipated by officials at Southeast Technical Institute in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“I expected to have a line at my door of students upset with me for making them take this course and wanting out,” says Tracy Noldner, vice president of student affairs. “I also thought I was going to have parents calling me upset.”

But, she adds, “parents are thrilled. They want help—they don’t want you just to send a letter and wish you good luck.”

Inside the Program

  • Students in the program rate it an average of 7.3 out of 10 for course benefits, with sessions on time management, budgeting and taking personal responsibility rated as most helpful.
  • Southeast Tech offers an appeals process for students who believe their circumstances exempt them from academic recovery.

Southeast Tech’s Academic Recovery course is required for every student placed on financial aid warning or academic probation for the first time. It consists of an hour of lecture and two hours of lab per week. In the lecture, retention coordinators work with students on academic goals and financial aid.

The lab functions as a structured study hall, where students can meet with advisors, work on group projects or do homework, says associate registrar and retention officer Anna Peterson. “They come pretty quickly to understand the value of it.”

There was debate over whether to charge tuition for the course—especially since existing financial aid cannot be applied. In the end, officials decided that paying tuition would keep students invested in recovery.

Students appear to be getting the message: Attrition rates have fallen by about 15 percent under the program. At the same time, the number of students who have returned to good standing or have remained on warning (and therefore haven’t failed out) has risen by about 20 percent.

“If they have to pay for it,” Peterson says, “they understand the significance of it.”