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Coming Up with New Tactics to Boost Student Success

At a series of student success summits led by Vice Provost R. J. Hinde, academic affairs and student life experts joined forces to develop new initiatives to help students stay in school and graduate on a timely basis. Efforts include academic success care, Volunteer impact communities, mattering and belonging, and HOPE recovery and retention projects.

Academic Success Care

As a growing number of faculty and staff request interventions for struggling students, we need greater capability to make personal contact with students, provide them with appropriate resources, and follow up with them. In addition, we want to close the loop with faculty members who make the referrals so they know the student is being helped.

Karen Sullivan-Vance, associate vice provost for student success, is overseeing our efforts to bolster this academic success care effort.

“We are in the process of hiring three academic success advocates (ASAs) who will be based in First-Year Studies and serve as intervention specialists for students who are at the highest risk of failing or dropping out,” she said. “We plan to have them in place later this spring.”

Faculty requests for an intervention come into the First-Year Studies office through the academic alert system (Early Alert) and other means. They receive, on average, 2,300 alerts each semester. A staff member reviews these requests and sends each case to the appropriate campus partner—advisors, tutors, housing staff, etc.—to reach out to the student and offer help.

“With only one current staff member, we cannot provide the proactive case management needed to work with students that are at highest risk,” Karen said.

The ASAs reach out several times to referred students—by email, phone, and text—to make personal contact and guide them toward resources.

Working closely with academic colleges and the Office of the Dean of Students, “the ASA will manage a student’s specific situation and follow through, making sure the student knows the support and available resources to be academically successful,” Karen said.

A website is also being developed to streamline the referral process for faculty.

Volunteer Impact Communities

We’re going to be piloting two Volunteer impact communities in the fall. The idea behind this effort is to improve retention by providing students with a support system, increasing their level of engagement, and improving their sense of belonging on campus.

Frank Cuevas, associate vice chancellor for student life, and Jason Mastrogiovanni, director of First-Year Studies, are spearheading the initiative.

Each Volunteer impact community will center around an interdisciplinary topic of engagement. While the themes are to be determined, the committee is reaching out to faculty with ideas such as social or entrepreneurial impact.

The communities will be open to all incoming first-year students, with targeted outreach to a diverse group of students. Seventy-five to 100 students will be chosen to participate in each community.

Students in each community will engage in academic activities, such as enrollment in FYS 101 and 129 courses, and will also participate in experiential activities and events. A team of faculty and staff will work closely with each community.

Mattering and Belonging

While academic struggles and financial woes cause some students to leave, others do not persist because they don’t feel they fit in at UT.

“There’s always this fuzzy reason why our students leave. Fit is a lot harder to understand,” said Shea Kidd-Houze, assistant vice chancellor for student life and dean of students.

We’ve created work teams of faculty and staff to develop an engagement campaign that will be used to emphasize the unique contribution of every student at UT.

Shea has been overseeing this effort with help from Matthew Theriot, associate provost for faculty development and strategic initiatives.

They’ve been talking to students, faculty, and staff and have developed some exciting ideas. The work teams will be seeking input from the campus community in the coming weeks.

HOPE Retention and Recovery Projects

About 95 percent of our freshmen come in with the Tennessee Lottery–funded HOPE Scholarship, which provides $3,500 per year.

To retain the scholarship, students must maintain a minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA after 24 and 48 credit hours. Looking at the past three years, about a quarter of our first-year students end their first year with a GPA below the required 2.75.

Although advisors, academic coaches, and One Stop counselors work regularly with students to help them maintain their HOPE Scholarships, we launched two very defined initiatives in 2018 to learn how we can do this better.

In spring 2018, we began the HOPE Protection Partnership, letting freshmen opt in for increased communication and required academic coaching to help them protect their scholarship eligibility. About 14 percent of invitees opted in. Since the Student Success Center continued communication efforts even if students didn’t opt in, we’re now doing a deeper dive into the data to figure out how important the opt-in request was.

In summer 2018, we launched the HOPE Recovery project. We provided a financial bridge to 148 students who barely missed the GPA requirement to retain their HOPE Scholarship. They received funding to cover the lost scholarship for one year, giving them time to regain the required GPA by the next 24-credit hour checkpoint. By next spring, we’ll know how many of these students managed to regain their scholarships.

One challenge we encountered along the way: students who take a full summer class load hit the next credit-hour checkpoint faster—in one semester, not two—giving them less time to raise their GPA to the required level.

Going forward, we know that the earlier we identify and work with students, the better chance we have in helping them regain the HOPE Scholarship. We hope to have the funds to continue offering HOPE recovery bridge funding.