By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
University of South Carolina

The size of the freshman class at the University of South Carolina has doubled in the last 10 years, from 2,500 to 5,000-plus, making it increasingly more challenging for students to develop one-on-one relationships with faculty and staff.

In the Student Success Center, 21 full-time, master’s-level staff members and 20 part-time success coaches (grad students) are committed to forging connections with students that will increase their odds of progression and graduation.

The challenge is daunting. The scale and diversity of the university’s programs make it difficult to connect in a meaningful way with every student.

With a stated goal of making “a large university feel smaller,” Success Connect was piloted in 2013 to establish those ties that can bind students to the school, says Eric Moschella, director of the Student Success Center.

Success Connect is built on four pillars: 1) pairing incoming freshmen with success coaches, 2) an early-alert system designed to identify struggling students, 3) the Student Success Hotline and 4) peer-led academic support, including tutoring.

Coaches reach out to their assigned students even before classes begin to introduce themselves and answer questions. The goal is to start building a relationship.

In addition, as the semester progresses, students identified by professors as needing academic support are offered additional coaching. Every three weeks, these students are sent information via email about upcoming success-center events to encourage engagement.

The Student Success Hotline receives more than 11,000 calls a year and makes approximately 4,600 calls inviting students in for additional assistance. The phone calls and emails become more frequent if the student takes no action.

“The purpose of the hotline is to answer questions and to pair students with resources that can help,” says Moschella.

The initiative is a partnership comprising a number of academic and administrative departments—including the department of English, the Counseling Center, University Housing, the Office of Financial Aid and the first-year-seminar course. Students get help overcoming academic, financial, interpersonal or emotional barriers that emerge.

“If students are capable of being admitted [to our university], we know they can do the work,” says Moschella. “We need to help them stay.”