In the Business to Retain
National conference offers strategies on keeping students in college and on track
By Gabrielle FinleyWASHINGTON
Although colleges and universities have adopted a number of successful strategies and techniques to recruit students to their campuses, retaining those students often proves to be quite difficult. But for those attending the National Conference on Student Retention last month in Washington, facing that challenge might appear less daunting.
The conference, sponsored by consulting firm Noel-Levitz, offered a variety of seminars for its 900 attendees that dealt with retention programs, financial aid, how-to guides on researching retention and tips on tracking students. Noel-Levitz, which specializes in enrollment management solutions, has sponsored the conference for the past 16 years.
One of this year’s workshops, “I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up,” offered insight on the PASS (Personal, Academic, Social and Support) Program. The program was developed under Dr. Joann Credle, a professor and counselor for retention at Northern Virginia Community College-Annandale (NVCC-Annandale).
The PASS Program is a one-year program used to help students who have experienced academic difficulties and are on academic suspension get back on track for graduation.
According to “Passport: A Paradigm to Academic Success at Northern Virginia Community College-Annandale,” a report authored by Credle, the PASS Program was the campus’ first initiative in addressing the retention problem. The goal was to develop and implement a program for at-risk students.
The process of becoming a part of the PASS Program is very meticulous and thorough. Students on academic suspension must meet with a counselor to be readmitted to the college. During counseling sessions, they review the school’s policy, which requires a one-year separation from the college. Students also are informed that they may reapply for readmission, and if they are readmitted, they must participate in the PASS Program. Students are then provided a checklist of requirements for readmission and participation. Students who choose to reapply through the PASS Program must submit a letter to the admissions committee explaining why they experienced academic difficulty.
The PASS Program provides positive reinforcement in four areas of a student’s life that could otherwise cause negative impact: personal, academic, social and support.
The personal and academic aspect of the program focuses on the students’ ability to enroll in a course load that does not exceed seven semester hours, meet regularly with their assigned counselors, obtain a grade of “C” or better in all classes, enroll in an orientation class and submit progress reports in the midterm and final weeks of the semester among other tasks to help the students stay on track. Students are not allowed to drop or withdraw from classes without the written permission of the admissions committee.
The support system for students involved in the PASS Program, which includes the provost, dean of student development and faculty, seeks to strengthen the ties between students and faculty members.
However, the student’s motivation is key for his or her success through the PASS Program, Credle says.
“We can supply help, tutors, but if they don’t have the motivation, they’re going to stop when those obstacles come their way.”
Michelle Kosloski, a beginning PASS Program participant, credits Credle’s strict requirements for her ability to stay on track.
“It’s like a prison — but a welcome prison. We need structure and the whole set up is serious. The first time we saw her (Credle) she set down the law,” Kosloski says.
HAWK Link, a retention program specifically developed for students of color, was another program featured in a conference workshop entitled, “ABCs for Developing a Comprehensive Student Retention Program for Students of Color.”
Robert N. Page Jr., director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at the University of Kansas and co-creator of HAWK Link, led the workshop.
Page says many times students of color feel left out from the school’s social environment.
“A lot of universities lack (minority students) because they don’t make that extra effort for students of color. A lot of students of color want to have a sense of belonging. There just needs to be an extra outreach for those students.”
Similar to the PASS program, HAWK Link is designed to help students with both academic and personal success. The program focuses on the student’s first year, starting with the recruitment process and pre-orientation and culminating in a year-end graduation ceremony.
HAWK Link, one of the retention programs that won the 2002 Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards, involves many of the university offices, activities and officials that students of color will be exposed to throughout their first year, such as financial aid, advising, mentoring, living/learning environments and educational and developmental programs.
Amanda Clarence, program assistant for student involvement and activities at University of Nevada-Las Vegas and a conference participant, agrees with this strategy.
“I think there’s a general misconception that retention is just a job of enrollment management. It’s a job that involves the whole university … it’s all of our jobs,” Clarence says.
The 17th Annual National Conference on Student Retention will be held in San Diego July 13-17, 2003.
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