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This article by Larry Gordon originally appeared on EdSource.
The letter alerting Cal State Northridge students that they were being put on academic probation was pretty blunt and scary: shape up or risk getting kicked out.
Enter a national project called “Re-Imagining the First Year of College,” aimed at reducing college dropout rates during and soon after that first, vulnerable year in college.
Cal State Northridge signed on and one of the first things that changed was the tone of the probation letter. Now a more supportive message tells students with poor grades how to get help “as you strive to return to good academic standing.”
The new, gentler letter aims to let students know that probation “is not a death sentence,” said Cheryl Spector, campus director of Academic First Year Experiences.
That school is among the six CSU campuses — including Dominguez Hills, Humboldt, San Luis Obispo, Monterey Bay and Long Beach — and 38 other universities nationwide that won spots to participate in the Re-Imagining project. Begun last year by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and scheduled to last through 2018, the Re-Imagining group aims to be a clearinghouse of ideas and programs to keep new students on the path to a diploma.
“There is no silver bullet because students leave school for a variety of academic, financial and personal reasons,” said Jo Arney, Re-Imagining’s program director.
Given the national statistics, the Re-Imagining project has work to do.
On average, 16 percent of the students who started at its participating colleges in recent years did not return as sophomores. There is a wide range among the six participating CSU schools, from about a 29 percent dropout rate at Humboldt to just 5 percent at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which is known for its more rigorous admissions standards. (Among participating schools in other states, the highest freshman dropout rate is 57 percent at Harris-Stowe State in Missouri.)
While it is too soon to say whether revised probation letters and many other initiatives have had a significant impact, officials say they expect improvements as reforms take hold and spread beyond the 44 schools. The project also will be collecting data on how many credits freshmen take and how many pass all their classes. The ideal is for students to pass 30 course units in their first year.
The push to retain freshmen is in part a response to the rising numbers of students who are under-represented minorities and the first generation to attend college in their families — many of whom may not have enough home guidance about college success, according to Arney. The goal is to flip the traditional question of whether “students are ready for college” to one about whether “institutions are ready for today’s students and how to provide services if they are struggling,” said Arney, who is on leave as an associate professor of political science and public administration at the University of Wisconsin — La Crosse, which is one of the 44 participating campuses.
The schools are examining and adopting such changes as improved counseling, coaxing and prepping student to take advantage of faculty office visiting hours, creating computerized early warning systems that alert schools mid-semester to students who may be at risk of failing classes, providing small grants for emergency costs, revising first year introductory courses and establishing group learning communities in various subjects. Some schools are beefing up efforts to find out why students left school and offering help to return.
What might seem to be easily solvable issues for some people can trip up students who face the stress of juggling studies with off-campus jobs and family responsibilities, said Spector at Northridge, where 22 percent of freshman did not continue last year. So even small reforms can be important. “If we are going to lose students, I don’t want it to be something that could have been prevented or, worse, something that we might have caused,” she said.
Much of Re-Imagining dovetails with simultaneous efforts across the CSU system to drastically improve its graduation rates by 2025. Recent statistics show that only 23 percent of CSU freshmen finish in four years and 59 percent in six years; the goal is to raise those to 40 percent and 70 percent, respectively. Among other steps, the system is dropping its non-credit remedial math and English courses that have been a stumbling block for thousands of students and replacing them with for-credit classes with extra academic support. Too many students had not passed those remedial courses and gotten so discouraged that they left school, officials said.
The AASCU invited member campuses to apply to join the Re-Imagining group and the winners generally were chosen either because they needed help keeping freshmen or were seen as successful models that could advise other schools, Arney said. Other campuses accepted include Northern Arizona State, Sam Houston State in Texas, Winston-Salem State in North Carolina and Framingham State in Massachusetts. As AASCU institutions, they tend to be regionally focused public schools that are not as elite or research-oriented as the University of California or the University of Texas.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Strada Education Network are funding the initiative. Some of the money pays for travel to conferences and some will be used to help campuses design pilot programs in freshman seminars and internships. Beyond any grants, participants say belonging to the national group gives them ammunition if they face resistance to change on their home campuses.
Humboldt State saw it as “an opportunity to learn from other campuses, an opportunity to pick people’s brains to get best practices and get some feedback about what we are doing,” said Alexander Enyedi, campus provost and vice president for academic affairs. He said he hopes to reduce the percentage of freshmen who do not return from the current 29 percent to about 20 percent as soon as possible.
Humboldt, located in the state’s northern reaches, faces geographic challenges. While it is enrolling more minority students from Southern California, the long distances from students’ homes can worsen homesickness and make it difficult if a crisis erupts at home or at school, Enyedi said. So it is important to help create a sense of community on campus, he explained.
Humboldt has told the other colleges in the Re-Imagining group about its programs of shared learning communities for incoming science students. Those groups take weeklong research-oriented field trips to forests, rivers and mountains before classes start and the material is revisited in several classes throughout the year. That helps with bonding as do continuing study groups, he said.
As a result of Re-Imagining, Humboldt also changed its probation warning letter and is starting an early alert system for professors to let counselors know which students appear headed for a D or F and should be offered extra tutoring or other support.
Northridge too is improving and expanding its early warning system as well as holding seminars for faculty on how to make students feel welcome at office hours and use those visits productively, according to Spector. Another change adopted from Re-Imagining was revising the formal label for students who have not yet chosen a major from “undeclared” to “exploratory.” That might seem minor, but Spector said it confers more respect as students investigate which majors appeal to them and could lead to careers.
Cal State Dominguez Hills is adopting similar efforts and has been encouraged by the Re-Imagining group to pay close attention to financial hardships and family responsibilities of “students who walk away,” according to Bridget Driscoll, associate vice president for retention, academic advisement & learning.
“Our students who stop out, usually due to unforeseen life challenges, are just as valuable, just as important to us, as the students who are still with us,” she said. Campus advisors reach out each semester to find out why those students left and what it will take to bring them back, including a review of financial aid. “Those students need to know they are still a valued part of our campus family and have a door to come back,” Driscoll said.
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The letter was delivered in response to the department’s request for information regarding the disclosure of confidential wage records under the department’s regulations governing the confidentiality and disclosure of state unemployment compensation data. Strada also included specific recommendations for regulatory amendments.
Report indicates both success and need for improvement in meeting students’ varied goals
A new and improved Free Application for Federal Student Aid expected late this year should provide opportunities for more students and their families to access money to pay for college. Yet the transition to this new form presents unprecedented challenges for those who work to help students complete it.
According to new Strada Education Foundation research, community college attendees who complete an associate degree or successfully transfer to a four-year institution value their education at rates comparable to or higher than recent bachelor’s degree completers. However, researchers found first-generation students rated the value of their community college education about 20 percentage points lower than those who are not first-generation students.
Eloy Ortiz Oakley, president and CEO of College Futures Foundation and former chancellor of the California Community Colleges, will join a Strada Education Foundation webinar Sept. 7, when he and other panelists will explore Strada’s latest report, “The Value of Community Colleges: Recent Students' Motivations and Outcomes,” which captures several factors that motivated recent alumni to enroll in community college.
Major changes in the form, combined with an expected delay in its release, are combining to intensify the work of spreading the word about the updated FAFSA.
This article by Madeline St. Amour originally appeared in Inside Higher Ed.
Virginia’s largest community college and a prominent public research university have co-partnered with an educational management and student support service provider to improve academic outcomes for transfer students.
Edtech integration can cause headaches if technology solutions aren't "getting along"--but a new free tool could help alleviate that pain
New building will house over 500 employees
DXtera Institute, a nonprofit consortium of higher ed institutions, ed tech companies and other postsecondary education professionals, has released a free Next Generation Integration Scorecard (NGIS) aimed at improving technology integration in higher education.
Massachusetts will be the recipient of financial and technical help to build “data-driven approaches” to linking residents to jobs in growing industries, thanks to a partnership between the National Governors Association and the Strada Education Network.
This article by Carol D’Amico originally appeared on RealClear Education.
This article by Jeffrey J. Selingo originally appeared on the Washington Post.
Michigan State University has long worked with and competed against other colleges and universities in the United States.
One of the students leaving today on “Roadtrip Indiana” says she expects an “awakening” of what Indiana is about. Purdue University senior Shannon Newerth is joining two other Indiana students on a two-week RV trip throughout the state to take part in career exploration and work-based learning opportunities. The trip, organized in part by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and several private partners, will be the subject of an upcoming public television documentary.
As a lifelong baseball fan, former high school baseball player, and coach for 20 years, I have always been struck by how deeply intertwined baseball and learning really are. An education advocate for most of my career, I have seen firsthand how a passion for sports can shift mindsets and create sustainable pathways to college, meaningful careers, and inspired lives.
More than half of adults in the U.S. would change at least one aspect of their higher education experience, according to a new survey from Gallup and the Strada Education Network. Common regrets were choice of institution and major or field of study. Comparatively, relatively few regretted their degree type.
A majority of Americans who attended college say they received a quality education. But half would change at least one of these three decisions if they could do it all over again: the type of degree they pursued or their choice of major or institution.
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Half of college graduates regret their choice of school or major, according to a national survey.
Approximately half of all U.S. adults who pursued or completed a postsecondary degree would change at least one aspect of their education experience if they could do it all over again, including their major or field of study, the institution they attended, or the type of degree they obtained.
Regrets, I’ve had a few…and so have most Americans — at least when it comes to decisions they’ve made regarding their education. A new Gallup poll out today finds that 51 percent of Americans would change at least one of their education decisions if they had to do it all over again. Thirty-six percent said they’d choose a different major, 28 percent would attend a different school and 12 percent would pursue a different type of degree, according to the poll.
On May 2, the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus in conjunction with the Alliance for Excellent Education hosted “College and Career Pathways: Stories of Innovation.” The Alliance is a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization focusing on high school redesign for underrepresented students. The briefing revolved around “highlighting innovative approaches across the country to college and career pathways that have led to positive outcomes for traditionally underserved students.”
Data analytics has proven to be a powerful tool in a number of industries, and in higher ed, it has significant potential to help institutions streamline operations and improve experiences for students. But in using that data, colleges and universities must also be careful to also consider the underlying causes behind some of those numbers.
This is important news for admissions officers, who may feel that low-income students pose more of a risk at a four-year college or university. These students are just as capable of thriving as those from more affluent households, but institutions and policymakers must also consider that they may need more resources.
In a Monday morning session at the ASU+GSV Summit in Salt Lake City, a panel of thought leaders discussed how to expand access and success, particularly among low-income, first-generation and underrepresented student populations.
INDIANAPOLIS — Higher Education Commissioner Teresa Lubbers recently announced a new initiative, “Roadtrip Indiana,” that aims to help Hoosier students make more informed decisions about their futures through intentional career exploration and direct engagement with employers across the state.