University shares plans for first-year retention initiative

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A new student success and retention initiative is expected to take form this summer, with Student Development hiring “student success coaches.” The goal is to increase student retention and provide further resources for students identified as “at-risk” to  leave the university within their first year. Lisa Israel, the Director of Academic Advising and Support,  and Leanna Fenneberg, Assistant Vice President of Student Development, announced the planned initiative to SGA during their Feb. 12 meeting. The primary goal of the program is to increase annual first-year retention rates at SLU from 87 percent to 90 percent, which amounts to an addition 48 students annually.

“What we’re proposing… is to provide individual outreach to first-time full-time freshmen that are identified as at-risk via MAP-Works,” Israel said.

The university currently uses the MAP-Works platform to collect data from first-year students concerning academic, socio-emotional and financial status. Using various metrics, MAP-Works has consistently identified a quarter of first year students as “at-risk,” indicating that those students have a higher probability of leaving the university by the end of their first year. Data collected by Student Development and others correlates with the MAP-Works metrics, showing that a greater percentage of at-risk students leave SLU than those that are considered not at-risk.

The six coaches will be overseen by a program director, and while details on how the program will be implemented are not yet fully defined, Fenneberg and Israel stated that the coaches would function primarily as a communication and referral resource for students.

A coach would first meet with an at-risk student and identify specific areas of concern and personalized goals. Coaches would then follow up by providing resources and tracking the progress of students throughout their first year. At the start of their sophomore year the student could look at what he spoke to his coach about on their first meeting and see how far he had progressed.

“[The coaches] are going to provide individual student outreach, connect [students] to relevant resources, monitor and track progress and maintain communication with faculty and staff,” Israel said.

Fenneberg stated that the development of a more specific job position will occur as more input is gathered from the broader student community.

“We’re in conversation with our academic partners to define the specifics: when will we outreach to students, what will that communication look like,” Fenneberg said. “Every time we have a presentation people bring new perspectives and we’ll continue to involve that in the specifics.”

While the initiative will be entirely new to SLU, Israel stated that those involved in developing the initiative spent most of the fall semester researching literature on retention as well as looking at retention programs at other universities.

According to Israel, the goal is to have all seven new position filled by June 9 so that the program can be prepared and marketed during the summer SLU 101 sessions.

Based on the $20,000 students pay annually on average in tuition and fees, retention of an additional 48 students amounts to $960,000 in revenue.

“That amount is worth three times the cost of the initiative,” Israel said. She also stated that the funding for the program is coming from realigned dollars as opposed to new budgetary proposals.