A multifaceted approach to addressing barriers to student success: A Q&A with UCM


A multifaceted approach to addressing barriers to student success: A Q&A with UCM

As part of our ongoing guest blog series, we’re excited to feature work from the University of Central Missouri (UCM), one of the first members to join SSC in 2012, to share some of the exciting work they’re doing with us at EAB as well as on their own back in Warrensburg. We sat down with Deborah Curtis, provost at UCM, and key members of her success team to hear about the multifaceted approach they’re taking—both with EAB and on their own—to help more students graduate.

Read on for her responses to our questions about UCM’s approach to or experience with the following:

1. Since joining in 2012, what has been your strategy for successfully implementing SSC at UCM?

It’s important to have this initiative elevated on campus. For us, having a leadership team has been critical. The vice provost for enrollment management leads the SSC Leadership Team, and we’ve assigned one academic advisor per college, as well as the academic deans, to participate on the team. This team gathers monthly to discuss what’s working, what’s not, and to share strategies and best practices.

By elevating this issue, we’ve empowered key stakeholders to take ownership over the challenges their particular college faces. Opening the lines of communication across campus and vesting ownership has created an enthusiastic atmosphere about what we’re doing with SSC that has infiltrated our advising culture.

2. What has changed the most for you at UCM since joining SSC?

Before, we knew we needed to focus more seriously on student success. We had been trying to tackle some of these issues independently, but it wasn’t until joining SSC that we began to address it in a more organized way. Now, we are coordinated and more unified in our efforts—working together, rather than in silos, to overcome barriers to student success.

SSC has also made us more proactive in our advising. Previously we struggled with having instantaneous access to the data and information in order to be preemptive—now we’re trying to get ahead of the issues before they present themselves. The more proactive we can be in our advising efforts, the more successful we’ll be in helping students persist and ultimately complete. That’s the goal, and SSC is a tool that helps in getting there.

3. Can you give an example of how you’ve become more proactive?

Rather than waiting for students to come to us, we’re now finding those students who are showing early signs of risk and intervening before it’s too late.

Most recently, we’ve embraced SSC’s “Murky Middle” research and started to conduct targeted advising campaigns to identify and then communicate to those students who might be showing subtle signs of risk but have been flying under the radar. Personalized and targeted communication can help them get back on track.

Also, something that often goes overlooked is appreciative advising for those higher-performing students. Positive encouragement can go a long way to ensure students don’t slip in the wrong direction. Just a simple “job well done” and “keep it up” can be really powerful.

SSC enables us to be targeted and focused in our approach, but in a scalable and manageable way.

4. I know you’re also involved with other initiatives at EAB—taking full advantage of what we have to offer. Can you talk about those?

We’re really trying to take a 360-degree approach, and we’re turning to EAB as a tool for a comprehensive solution across the board. Just as SSC has been an integral part of helping us address barriers to completion, the work we’ve done with EAB in partnership with the Gates Foundation and through Academic Performance Solutions will allow us to drill down on other issues like cost, capacity, and enrollment management.

All of these EAB programs complement one another and will give us greater, more complete insight into how things are working on our campus and where we can improve.

5. What other student success initiatives are you engaged in at UCM outside of your work with EAB?

So many things fall under the “student success” umbrella, and we’re involved in a number of initiatives at UCM. A larger one is the Contract for Completion. Through this contract, students commit to not only enrolling in an average of 15 hours per term, but they must be the right 15 hours. They must also attend class regularly, communicate with professors, visit their academic advisors, and engage in the student experience.

Upon enrollment, students are automatically committing to the tenants of the contract, and as a result they are the ones who benefit by graduating and doing so in a timely manner. UCM’s commitment is to provide a more hands-on experience and ultimately reward those students who progress academically by following through with a financial reward: a scholarship of up to $1,000 toward their senior year. We’ve already seen tremendous success with this. The most recent freshman cohort advanced to the sophomore level at a rate 5.5 percentage points quicker than previous cohorts.

6. With the end of the school year in sight and next fall on the horizon, what are your goals for the coming school year?

Engaging more faculty. We focused on professional advisors first, and have been able to successfully roll out the initiatives and platform among this group.

Now we need to engage more faculty as they take on significant responsibility for advisement in students’ later academic terms. We will be working with our dedicated consultant to find innovative and effective ways of getting more faculty on board. This will be a critical next step for us, and I’m confident EAB’s team will provide us with the assistance and resources we need to do this effectively.

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