New Office of Student Success Aims to Meet Needs 'One Student at a Time'
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Trevor Francis began helping University of Arkansas students succeed more than a decade ago, with the past three years spent working as associate vice provost in the Office of Graduation and Retention, a part of Enrollment Services.
That office now has a new name, Office of Student Success, and is now a part of Academic Affairs. Francis is still associate vice provost, but with an additional title: director of student success.
These changes mean he is developing new ways to implement the U of A’s first academic priority: advancing student success. His goal, as spelled out in the university’s newly adopted academic strategic plan, is to “increase retention and graduation rates, post-graduation employment and graduate education enrollment rates.”
The goal isn’t new, but the administrative reorganization, the resources being made available, and the detailed plans involved are all signs of a major institutional commitment.
“I am very excited to be part of this effort,” said Francis. “There are many programs in place on campus to help students, but nothing as comprehensive and focused as the chancellor and provost are envisioning. Their approach, which addresses student success on an individual basis — ‘one student at a time’ — is a fresh perspective with tremendous potential. I’ve been having conversations with leaders across campus and there’s no doubt the energy and desire for innovative change are here at the U of A. Responses have been very positive.”
As the university works toward these goals and begins the actions outlined in the strategic plan, Francis said he believes the biggest challenge will be determining which students will benefit from additional support and then creating and personalizing the kind of help they need.
“Trevor Francis has considerable experience working with students to increase our retention and graduation rates. He understands the challenges,” said Jim Coleman, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “I’m excited about the energy and expertise he is bringing to the task of analyzing and integrating the programs we already have, determining how well they work, and developing ways to fill the gaps and optimize our approach, working ‘one student at a time’ to ensure our students succeed, at the U of A and in their lives.”
Francis is currently working on three major projects, all outlined as actions in the academic strategic plan.
ARKANSAS STEP TO SUCCESS
Arkansas STEP to Success is a pilot program, a joint effort with the Division of Student Affairs, scheduled to begin in mid-October. STEP — Student Talent Enrichment Program — will target 300 first-time, full-time freshmen from Arkansas, dividing them into two groups.
For the first group, Francis is working with his director of student success assessment, Jesse Delaney, using predictive analytics to determine the unmet financial need these students will face in their first year at the U of A. Studies have shown that financial need is often a major reason students leave school or fail to keep up with their studies. This group of students will receive one-time grants from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on their need, along with financial training to teach them to make the most of their resources.
The second group of 150 students will each be given $1,000 grants and connected with a peer mentor to help navigate and adjust to the campus environment. Again, research has shown that a student’s ability to adjust to college life — not just academically, but personally and socially — is a major factor in that student’s success.
The progress of both groups will be monitored and analyzed to see which approaches work and which need to be adjusted.
The Student Success Center is ultimately conceived as a permanent place to bring together all the programs and offices dedicated to helping students -- from tutoring programs to UA Cares to the Center for Educational Access.
The center will focus on recruiting students from every part of Arkansas, helping them make the transition to the U of A, providing the support they need to stay in school and graduate in four years, and then helping them move into a career or graduate school.
An interim location, with 3,200 square feet in the Garland Center, is being prepared now, and is expected to open in April. It will provide space for as many student services as possible, while serving as a test for which services are effective and what new services are needed.
The idea behind the unofficially named “Bounce Back” program is that students who are on academic probation, or even facing academic suspension, shouldn’t have to transfer to another school to get back on track.
The U of A has the resources to provide tutoring, as well as teach the basic, essential academic habits that can make all the difference for a student in the classroom. Francis said he is working with the various academic units to find and pull those resources together into a program that should be in operation by next fall.
IT’S A CAMPUSWIDE EFFORT
These programs are clear examples of the U of A’s vision for advancing student success. The Division of Student Affairs and the individual colleges on campus have all had student support and mentoring programs in operation for several years, but Charles Robinson, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the new programs Francis is working on show the university’s increased level of commitment.
“The chancellor and provost have budgeted $1.2 million this year alone to these programs,” said Robinson. “That involved some major restructuring and shifts in both academic and administration budgets. There is every indication this financial commitment will continue. It is very exciting to see these resources being used to find ways to make sure our students succeed. I’m very happy to be able to work with Trevor to make this vision become a reality.”
In a letter to the campus community last month, Provost Coleman elaborated on that vision, describing student success as having two dimensions, chronological and holistic.
The chronological begins with students’ first interactions with the university, before they even decide to apply, and continues past graduation, with different types of support in each phase along the path.
The holistic dimension involves balancing factors such as academic success, financial stability and security, the sense of belonging and engagement, and health and wellness.
“Facilitating these diverse aspects of student success requires tremendous collaboration and coordination across the university,” Coleman said. “To facilitate these cross-campus efforts, we will be putting together a steering committee to guide these efforts that will include myself, Charles Robinson, Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment services and dean of admissions, and other administrative, dean and faculty representatives.”
At the same time, Francis is currently working with Leslie Yingling, associate dean for inclusion in student affairs, and Deborah Korth, director of student success for the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, to put together a working group of people who oversee student success programs in student affairs and all of the academic units to work toward these goals.
Francis said these groups are key to bringing student success resources together and working creatively to achieve the goals set out in the strategic plan. He said it will be equally important, and just as challenging, to develop the metrics needed to assess each program so the student success initiatives can continually grow and evolve.
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