Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Award-Winning Approaches to Retention: Higher Education Consulting Firm Noel-Levitz Recognizes a Handful of Universities with the Most Effective Retention Programs

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Award-Winning Approaches to Retention: Higher Education Consulting Firm Noel-Levitz Recognizes a Handful of Universities with the Most Effective Retention Programs

Article excerpt

Retaining incoming freshmen is one of the most critical issues colleges and universities face, particularly among minority, poor and first-generation students. Though university retention programs share many similarities, institutions take many different and innovative approaches to best prepare the most at-risk freshmen for the college experience, often leading to both improved grades and graduation rates.

Each year, Noel-Levitz, a higher education consulting firm that advises colleges and universities about student programs, recognizes a handful of institutions with the most effective retention programs.

This year's Noel-Levitz Retention Excellence Award winners are: Arkansas Tech University; The College of New Jersey; Lehigh Carbon Community College; Michigan State University; Mississippi State University; Slippery Rock University; Texas A&M University; University of Alaska, Anchorage; and the University of California, San Diego.

A panel of higher education administrators and consultants select the awardees based on measurable results, originality and creativity of the programs, resource use and adaptability to other institutions.

The schools were honored at Noel-Levitz's annual National Conference on Student Retention held in San Diego this month.

The following are brief profiles of the award-winning retention programs.

ARKANSAS TECH UNIVERSITY, RUSSELLVILLE

RETENTION PROGRAM: BRIDGE TO EXCELLENCE

Rather than focus on a small population, Arkansas Tech University's retention program targets the entire 1,100 student freshmen class during the first six weeks of the semester. Approximately 100 faculty and additional staff mentor the freshmen, meeting with them after orientation and again mid-way through the semester.

Mentors assess student needs and refer them to campus services that can help with problem areas. Arkansas Tech has developed special student programs to go along with this effort and its student services staff coordinates referrals to university agencies and services.

Begun with a sample of 105 students in 2001, the program was subsequently enlarged to 310 students before expansion to the entire class this year. Results from the first sample show a 16 percent retention rate increase from fall 2001 to fall 2002 and a 0.5 GPA increase compared to non-participating freshmen. The expanded program's results have shown an increase in fall to spring retention rates of more than 6 percent over non-participants.

THE COLLEGE OF NEW JERSEY, EWlNG

RETENTION PROGRAM: MINORITY MENTORING PROGRAM

Minority students often feel isolated and lonely upon arrival at mostly White campuses. So the College of New Jersey established its Minority Mentoring Program to help African American and Hispanic students adjust to their new life on campus.

"One of the things that I noticed is that some of the students in those first few weeks don't get to know as many students as they'd like too, particularly minority students," says Wayne Jackson, the program coordinator and the college's assistant director for records and registration.

An important part of the Minority Mentoring Program is the leadership of upperclassmen, Jackson says. Several minority upperclassmen contact incoming freshman over the summer to introduce themselves and answer any questions the incoming students may have. At the end of the first month of school, the students and upperclassmen mentors gather off:campus for a daylong conference where they hear about on-campus services and how to succeed from college staff and an unaffiliated speaker.

"It's an all day opportunity to bond with other students, including upperclassmen, and that helps a little bit," Jackson says.

During the first semester, students gather weekly for social events or to study. About once a week, mentors meet with students to answer questions about academics or campus life, and the college provides extra tutoring. …

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