By: 
Sandra Beckwith
Honoree: 
Kent State University

When a 2009 data review revealed that undecided, or “exploratory,” students were less likely to graduate from Kent State University than those entering with a declared major, leaders looked into why—and what they could do to improve retention.

One step was requiring all students to enroll in a degree-granting program by the time they had received 45 credit hours.

To that end, leaders at the Ohio university formed a committee to further develop and refine the process exploratory students followed to find a major.

The committee’s goals: Increase the retention rate of undecided freshmen from 69 percent to 75 percent, and move the percentage of those declaring a major by the 45-credit-hour mark from 66 percent to 80 percent.

Kent State’s University College, which is responsible for undecided students, instituted the six-point Exploration Plan in 2012. Under the plan, all undecided students:

  1. are required to select a concentration from eight options upon admission
  2. take the “First-Year Experience” course that focuses on decision-making and career options
  3. are assessed for their ability to make a vocational choice through the Career Maturity Inventory
  4. take courses linked to their concentration
  5. must participate in at least three advising sessions during their first year
  6. take a career exploration course

For fall 2013 undecided freshmen, the retention rate increased to 75 percent, and students declaring a major by the time they acquired 45 credit hours increased to 83 percent. Administrators continue to refine the plan as they learn more from data and conversations.

Inside the Program

  • Certain elements, including required advising for freshmen and linked courses, were part of a pilot program the year before the full 2012 program rollout.
  • Career Maturity Inventory test results were originally reviewed in a group setting, but research showed that discussing them one-on-one with each student made the results more meaningful.

“Before we started, we saw our exploratory students as one group with the same characteristics,” says Steven Antalvari Jr., advising director for University College.

“This program has helped us learn to serve them as unique individuals based on their background and interests, and that approach contributes to its success.”