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Help Move the Needle on Student Retention

Students at One Stop Student Services

We’ve made tremendous strides in our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate in recent years, but it’s going to take all of us working together to push past our current plateau.

We increased our retention rate from 84 percent in 2010 to 87 percent in 2015.

Our progress was fueled by a variety of efforts, including hiring additional coaches and advisors, creating One Stop, and enhancing the operations of our Student Success Center.

Our goal is to reach a retention rate of 90 percent by 2020; moving the needle now is going to take a grassroots effort.

Many faculty and staff already have made student success a personal priority. For example:

  • Malissa Peery photoMalissa Peery, a distinguished lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, uses innovative teaching methods to keep students engaged. She began flipping her Math 119 classes a couple of years ago. Her students watch her lecture on video and take notes before coming to class. In class, they work on group activities to gain a better grasp of the concepts. When Peery tested the flipped versus traditional class formats, the flipped approach proved best for student engagement and comprehension. Peery now mentors her teaching assistants on using this approach, and many Math 119 and 125 courses are flipped. In addition, Peery and her TAs use the Early Alert System, the campus’s outreach system, to find struggling students who need academic intervention. Peery makes sure all students have access to information about various tutoring options on campus. And when she encounters students who seem to have larger life problems, she connects them with those who can help.
  • Walker photoTeresa Walker, an associate dean and associate professor in UT Libraries, has served as a Life of the Mind discussion leader for several years. Each year, the program recruits faculty, staff, and graduate students to meet with small groups of freshmen during Welcome Week to talk about that year’s common reading selection. For many freshmen, it’s more than a book discussion—it’s their first college classroom experience, which means it’s both a responsibility and a privilege for the discussion leaders. “It shows new students that they have support and people on campus who want to see them succeed,” Walker said. “And it helps me recalibrate to a new group of students and how they think about the world.” That insight, she said, helps her to better serve students’ needs.

There are many things, big and small, that every faculty and staff member can do to help move the needle on retention. Here, from Associate Provost for Student Success Ruth Darling and others, are a few ideas:

  • Keep your eyes and ears open for struggling students. If you see that a student is struggling in class or showing signs of undue mental or physical stress, make sure they know about resources that can provide a lifeline. Help them connect with our campus resources and the many people trained to help. The Student Success Center website lists academic resources for students and for faculty and parents. The Center for Health Education and Wellness provides a list of health and safety resources on campus, in the community, and online.
  • Keep important numbers handy. Bookmark the links above or print out a list of the resources and keep it on your bulletin board or in your file cabinet.
  • Use the tools the university provides. Heed messages you receive via Early Alert. Encourage students to participate in MyCampus, the student experience survey now under way. Encourage students to complete the student evaluation for instruction each semester—and pay attention to what they are saying about your courses. Become familiar with GradesFirst, a communication system for advisors and faculty members, and uTrack, which provides an academic roadmap of the courses students need in order to graduate on time.
  • Ask the Student Success Center to provide a presentation for your office, unit, or department. Among the presentations they can do are “What is the SSC and how can they help me?” “What are the best ways to communicate with faculty?” “What are the most effective ways to study?” and “How do I effectively manage my time?” To request a presentation, fill out this online form. Need something else? Contact the Student Success Center at studentsuccess@utk.edu or 974-6641.
  • Take advantage of services offered by the Teaching and Learning Center. One of the best means of keeping students engaged is innovative teaching. The Teaching and Learning Center provides workshops and institutes, offers consultations, and provides grants that can help faculty modify courses, become more adept at using instructional technology, and enhance their teaching skills. View the center’s spring calendar and visit its website for more information.
  • Provide good customer service. Ever get a call or a request for help that’s meant for someone else? Ever see a student or parent who seems lost? Don’t hang up, blindly transfer the call, or walk away without helping. Provide directions—or, if you have time, walk them to their destination. Do your best to provide wayward callers with the name and contact number for the person who can help. You can find an A to Z campus index on the university website.

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