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Student Success Update Spring 2017

Our collective Quest for Student Success efforts are designed to ensure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve is met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care for their success, and provide extra support and assistance when our students encounter unexpected difficulties or when roadblocks arise that negatively affect their persistence toward graduation.

We are excelling in the areas of retention and graduation over the past few years. Here are the latest updates on our student success efforts.

MTSU Spring 2017 Budget Update•Our full-time freshman retention rate increased to 76.1 percent for the Fall 2016 semester, up from 68.7 percent for Fall 2013. This increase of nearly 11 percent over the past three years is the fastest rate of increase in the history of the institution. This also represents the highest freshman retention rate in the history of MTSU, based on available data.

•The new transfer student retention rate rose to 73.8 percent, an increase of 4.7 percent in the same three-year period.

•Our sophomore retention rate increased to 80.6 percent, up 3.1 percent between the Fall 2013 and Fall 2016 semesters.

•The percentage of freshmen completing at least 30 hours during their first two semesters of study increased to 50.4 percent during the 2015–16 academic year. Just two years prior, only 42 percent of freshmen completed at least 30 hours. This means that more freshmen are on track to finish their degrees in four years, an accomplishment in sync with both state and national initiatives.

•In summer 2016, a record 312 new students participated in the Scholars Academy, a two-week summer bridge, early-arrival program designed to enhance the success of at-risk students. One in every 10 MTSU new freshmen, therefore, participated in the Scholars Academy support program. The average retention rate for students who went through the Scholars Academy is 83 percent, well above that for other students. In addition, 54 percent of students in the Scholars Academy completed at least 30 hours in their first year of study, a rate that surpasses that of other students.

•Free tutoring was available during the Fall 2016 semester for more than 200 courses, a new record level of support at MTSU. More importantly, more students are going for tutoring and spending more hours in tutoring sessions, while tutoring usage already has surpassed that of all last year. The total number of tutoring sessions increased by 20 percent for Fall 2016 compared to Fall 2015. The number of hours spent by students in tutoring sessions increased by 23 percent from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016.

•MTSU was invited to join 44 other leading universities from across the country to participate in the Re-Imagining the First Year (RFY) initiative last semester. This initiative, sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to increase student success rates by focusing on improving the first-year experience for students. MTSU’s participation in RFY was made possible by a special invitation from AASCU.

•A Supplemental Instruction (SI) pilot program was implemented starting with the Fall 2016 semester. The program provides students enrolled in some of MTSU’s most challenging courses with additional instructional support. MTSU’s SI kickoff, like so many initiatives at the University, was “big,” involving 21 course sections, across three colleges, and serving more than 1,500 students. The program is already showing very promising results and has the support of our faculty and students.

•After receiving requests from students and others, our Office of Student Success started offering tutoring in Study Skills and Learning Strategies during the Fall 2016 semester. Early results show that Study Skills tutoring has a significant and positive impact on students who went for Study Skills tutoring compared to a matched sample of those who did not.

•MTSU launched the SSC Campus student information and analytics system, which is an important tool used by multiple campus partners in their work with current MTSU students, in March 2016. The very successful launch of this powerful technology platform, developed and supported by the Education Advisory Board (EAB), represents the culmination of many months of ongoing planning and coordinated efforts across multiple University divisions. For an introduction to SSC Campus, contact Brian Hinote in the MTSU Office of Student Success at brian.hinote@mtsu.edu.

•MTSU continues to be studied by other entities with an interest in learning more about the Quest for Student Success. Visits have been made by representatives from the Lumina Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Community College Resource Center at Columbia University.

Quest for Student Success Update

MTSU’s Quest for Student Success initiative is a series of reforms launched last year to increase retention and graduation through changes such as academic course redesigns, enhanced advising, and new student data-tracking software.

We developed this program to complement and reinforce Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55, which seeks to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with postsecondary degrees or certificates to 55 percent.

One component of the Quest unveiled late last year is the Student Success Advantage plan, which has the tagline “Graduate in Four and Get More.”

The plan will supplement HOPE Lottery Scholarships by $1,000 for incoming students who seek a four-year degree and stay on track to graduate on time. Our University will provide a $500 supplemental scholarship to students receiving the HOPE Scholarship after each of their first two years. Students must remain eligible for the HOPE Scholarship to get the award from MTSU.

Under the plan, we will provide what we call a Finish-Line Scholarship to graduating seniors that will return any tuition increases incurred during the four-year period of their studies.

We also recently eased eligibility requirements for five major scholarships. For example, Transfer Academic Scholarships are now guaranteed for students from all Tennessee community colleges.

In addition, even in a time of reduced state funding for higher education, we made a major investment in student success by reallocating money to hire 47 more academic advisors, who will help students maximize their investment and our incentives by providing more support, guidance, and encouragement to help them stay on track to graduate on time.

There is already evidence that the Quest is paying off. It’s no small feat that MTSU achieved increases in retention in fall 2014 that included an increase of 2 percent in the retention rate for new freshmen and a more than 1 percent increase in the retention of all students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Another example of how we are aiming for good results is the REBOUND program, which is led by Vincent Windrow, director of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs. REBOUND is targeted to improve retention rates for 564 fall 2014 freshmen who ended the semester with GPAs lower than 2.0. Traditionally, only about 20 percent of such students would return for the next semester. Emails and letters have been sent to invite these students to join the program. We expect that as many as 150 students will participate.

Early indicators are positive for persistence rates in this reform, as well. We’ll know more on the first day of class and on census day (Feb. 3).

Quest for Student Success Update

Higher education is just the latest arena facing a series of disruptive forces that could, on the one hand, lead to great innovation and transformation or, on the other, lead to significant losses in enrollment, funding, and cultural influence. A recent issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education said there is a growing call for innovation that supports greater student success.

Nothing is more important than ensuring the academic success of students. MTSU’s faculty and administration have come together to respond to these challenges by putting ourselves under a microscope as we attempt to better understand why some students succeed and what barriers to success get in the way of those who struggle.

Even with statewide and national accolades for its efficiency in creating college graduates, MTSU’s continued success depends on its ability to help students earn college degrees. These students are our responsibility, and we must discover and develop new and innovative ways to help them be successful, instead of whining about who they are. At MTSU, from a staff and faculty perspective, we simply must maintain and grow our student-centered culture. If students become an interruption in your day, you’re in the wrong business.

MTSU already has changed some administrative processes and policies that created roadblocks for students. One of these changes allows students to register or reenroll with an account balance of $200 or less. Previously, there was an across-the-board ban on registration for students owing as little as $5 to the University! Additionally, a campus-wide task force’s discovery of an almost 40 percent failure or withdrawal rate in some general education courses—despite solid high school GPAs and ACT scores—has led to the redesign of seven courses in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Basic and Applied Sciences.

We’ve also reviewed our recruitment and enrollment strategies, resulting in a two percent increase in this year’s freshman class. This 2013–14 freshman class also showed an increase in composite ACT scores and high school GPAs over the previous year. We’ve expanded scholarship funds for groups that have traditionally been under-supported, and we’ve gone to the Tennessee Board of Regents to request policy changes to allow more flexibility in registration and payment policies.

Additionally, we’ve surveyed students who failed to reenroll and analyzed their responses regarding factors that prevented their persistence. We’ve significantly expanded our Institutional Effectiveness, Planning, and Research group to provide better data about student retention, graduation, and success. Every academic college and every administrative division has conducted an internal review and participated in a series of hearings to outline new plans to help more students achieve success in the classroom and to graduate. We’ve begun to review grade distribution reports to better understand those courses that seem to have exceptionally large numbers of students not achieving the grade of C or better, so that we can consider curricular innovations to improve learning. We’ve also analyzed the first data sets coming out of the new funding formula under the Complete College Tennessee Act to see where our strengths lie and where we have opportunities to make improvements that may enhance our funding.

Last, we will be opening a one-stop shop for student enrollment services this spring. We have begun posting midterm grades for the first time in many years, giving students additional feedback to help them improve where their performance is lacking. A consolidated tutoring center is also being developed to provide support for students in all majors.

I recently announced a major initiative—the MTSU Quest for Student Success—that will integrate these efforts into a single coherent approach for the future. The plan, advanced by Provost Brad Bartel and endorsed by me, is designed to make sure that every student who comes to MTSU with the drive to achieve will be met with the best instruction from excellent professors who care about their success.

The Quest for Success lays out our ambitious vision to innovate for increased student success in three key areas:

  • Recruiting students who value academic success
  • Enhancing the academic experience for students by implementing innovation in curriculum across all disciplines and underscoring the role of quality advising in student success
  • Championing enhancements in administrative processes and eliminating barriers to student success

MTSU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is a great example of the work we are already doing to promote and improve student success, retention, and graduation. The department has implemented more student-friendly teaching practices for introductory courses and is using high-achieving undergrads as learning assistants for classmates in those courses. The department’s reward—in addition to fewer failing grades, more physics and astronomy majors, and more graduates—was a $20,000 check as the first recipient of the President’s Award for Exceptional Departmental Initiatives for Student Academic Success, given last fall.

This is our time for transformation—our time to seize the opportunity to innovate, transform, and lead the way in creating a new model for higher education. Instead of spinning our wheels focusing on the many external factors affecting higher education that are beyond our capacity to control, MTSU is turning its energies and talents toward tackling the internal factors over which we have direct influence and which we know can positively affect student learning.

Read more about the plan here: http://mtsunews.com/mtsu-student-success-reforms.

Making Student Success a Priority

MTSU students gather on the KOM steps

MTSU students gather on the steps of Kirksey Old Main

As we embark on our second century, we are well positioned to build on our success and cement our reputation as Tennessee’s Best comprehensive university.

But there is much more to do if we are to reach our full potential.

As you well know, the state’s funding formula for universities has changed. With the passage of the Complete College Tennessee Act, our state appropriation is now based on retention and graduation rates, not enrollment.

This change has prompted MTSU, as well as all of the state’s public institutions of higher education, to rethink our operations and structure.

The funding formula makes it more important than ever for us to focus on attracting more students who are best equipped for college and are most likely to graduate.

And it becomes critical that we continue to develop effective support systems that will help all our students succeed.

It is also time for us to again take a strong, careful look at the size of our institution and to consider the following questions and issues:

  • What should be our maximum enrollment?
  • How does that number balance with our resources and standards?

Last academic year, I asked for the development of a plan that would allow for enrollment growth in a deliberate and economically viable way.

The Strategic Plan for Enrollment Management, currently in draft form, is now before the Faculty Senate and others for feedback.

It addresses several critical questions, among them:

  • Should we slow the growth of our freshman class?
  • Can we better target high-achievers by slightly raising academic standards for guaranteed undergraduate admission?
  • Should we continue to increase the number of graduate students, who earn their diplomas more quickly and reliably than undergraduates?
  • Should we continue to aggressively pursue increasing the enrollment of more international students, a high achieving group, whose members generally complete their degrees on time?
  • And should we continue to increase our recruitment efforts and scholarship dollars for transfer students, who have survived the so-called dropout years of early college?

In 1993, a noted scholar of higher education administration, Vincent Tinto, said universities must do more than recruit solid students—they must also build a culture that enables them to succeed.

Tinto put forward three very simple principles of “effective retention” and they are:

  • Put student welfare ahead of other institutional goals. In other words, work first to take care of students and, most likely, most everything else will follow suit.
  • Create and maintain retention tools and practices that help all students, not just some of them.
  • AND build a sense of community and common values, which helps to build connection and belonging by students to the university.

I want to spend a minute on that third point—building a sense of community and common values for the institution.

A fascinating 2005 study by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities on best practices in student retention revealed several points that are worthy of reflection.

The successful universities profiled in the study worked to create a pervasive attitude that all students can succeed, reinforced by a wider culture of student engagement, on multiple levels. They were not content to rest on past success.

Recently, we have initiated some programs to help improve student success on our campus. For example:

• We started an Academic Alert program, which allows faculty to communicate directly with students about classroom performance and follow up on concerns. Last year, more than 27,000 early alerts were entered in this digital system.

• We have assigned all incoming students with Academic Counselors, in addition to their standard academic advisors. While advisors change each time a student changes majors, the student’s Academic Counselor is the one person they can turn to for help — from enrollment through graduation — regardless of what they study.

• AND…We are now deploying admissions advisors to major feeder community colleges in the region. Through this program, prospective transfer students have access—on their own campus—to MTSU staff through regularly maintained office hours at the community college.

These are just three of the many ideas that are in place or being developed that focus upon student success. Through these and other retention efforts, we hope to improve student performance and scholarship and target resources to students when they most need them.

But there is so much more to do. • If we sit on our hands and do nothing, we may fail to seize an opportunity that could define our second century.

Students will remember those faculty and staff members who challenged them the most, not the least. They will remember the people who reached out, who connected with them.

That is why I ask each of you to remember that no matter what you do, as a member of the faculty, staff or administration, all of us have a responsibility for student success.

Together, we make student success possible at Middle Tennessee State University.

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