Academic journal article College and University

Efforts to Improve Undergraduate Student Retention Rates at A Hispanic Serving Institution: Building Collaborative Relationships for the Common Good

Academic journal article College and University

Efforts to Improve Undergraduate Student Retention Rates at A Hispanic Serving Institution: Building Collaborative Relationships for the Common Good

Article excerpt

This article describes efforts to improve retention and graduation rates at the University of Texas at San Antonio, a large Hispanic serving institution (HSI). One college within the university is focusing on increasing retention and graduation rates primarily by building relationships and capitalizing on university resources. In addition to discussion of the unique challenges HSIs face in improving retention and graduation rates, the article describes how the college formulated a thorough graduation improvement plan.

"Blanca,"

a Latina, is a sophomore at a large, urban university. She is the first person in her family and one of only a few of her high school classmates to attend college. Most of her classes are quite large - more than ioo students - and the study requirements are demanding. Learning the university language and navigating its system of policies and procedures are on-going challenges. To offset college costs, Blanca works part time and has financial aid. As her work hours cut into her study time, both the cost and the demands on her time are beginning to mount. Blanca sometimes feels overwhelmed by this "foreign land" we call the university; she wonders if she will be able to remain in school.

Although fictitious, "Blanca" is a typical undergraduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. In general terms, she and others like her are novices in unfamiliar territory. Regularly confronted with the new and unfamiliar culture of higher education, they are particularly at risk of dropping out. However, appropriate university support can increase the likelihood of acclimation to the academic milieu and of student success. Such support does not happen by accident, and it is especially challenging at large institutions where communication and coordinated efforts are complex and students are more likely to be lost in the shuffle. Therefore, it is imperative that university professionals be intentional and strategic in providing appropriate direction and support for students.

Increasing student success requires sustained effort from all directions and is not the sole responsibility of any single office or person. The Graduation Rates Outcomes Study in Texas concludes that "student success is more a product of an overarching shared culture than it is the result of a more narrowly conceived deliberate 'retention' or 'graduation' effort" (Hanson 2006). There is no magic bullet. Therefore, the question is, "How is a culture of support for student success created?" The purpose of this article is to chronicle efforts to lay a foundation that likely will result in increased student retention and graduation rates within one college at the University of Texas at San Antonio (utsa), a large, public Hispanic serving institution (hsi).

BACKGROUND

Hanson (2006) outlines four objectives necessary for this to occur: (1) strong leadership with a clear message that graduation rates can and will improve; (2) involvement of the entire academic 'village' to change a graduation rate; (3) understanding why students fail to graduate in a timely manner; and (4) determination of the aspects that need to be changed and that can be changed. To meet these goals, it is imperative that a comprehensive, concerted, and coordinated effort to support student success be implemented. It is equally important that any efforts to increase student success be tailored to the institution's needs: What works for one student population may not work for another (Lopez-Mulnix and Mulnix zoo 6).

An extensive body of literature exists regarding increasing university student retention and graduation rates. Most notably, theory set forth by Tinto (1975, 1988, 1993) has been widely tested. Although facilitating student success is always challenging and multifaceted, there are additional components to address for "...minority students who have traditionally not fared well in institutions of higher education" (Maestas, Vaquera and Zehr 2007). …

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