Friday, February 20, 2015

Campus planning session focuses on crafting practical student success and retention strategies


At the heart of retention efforts is ensuring OU-C students pursue their goals and ambitions.

The focus was on student success during the Chillicothe Campus’ recent planning session. The event was a follow-up to the strategic meeting held in early fall semester and included both faculty and staff members.

The meeting’s theme, “Classrooom and Out-of-Classroom Retention Strategies” captured the mission and intended outcomes of the session, with an emphasis on strategies that are actionable on the Chillicothe Campus.

“Retention is an area of concern on our campus,” Dean Martin Tuck said in laying the groundwork for the meeting. “At OU-C, we have a retention rate of approximately 51 percent of first-year to second-year students. It is a number that is lower than on similar campuses and an area of concern. It is also a challenge I am confident we can meet by working together with a smart plan.”

As the dean noted, retention has several ramifications.

“It impacts several areas of campus operations, such as overall enrollment, state subsidy funding and overall revenue. However, more importantly, it is integral to student success and ensuring that our students have meaningful college careers, earn their degrees and pursue their professional endeavors.”

Director of Student Services John Fisher provided a snapshot to set the tone. He noted that the Chillicothe Campus’ retention rate of 51 percent falls below the university’s Regional Higher Education average of 63 percent. He also shared that the campus’ enrollment numbers remain strong. Preliminary numbers indicate OU-C’s headcount enrollment at 2,410 and FTE of 1,446 for spring semester 2015. Those compare favorably with spring semester 2014, when headcount was 2,305 and FTE 1,453. In fact, headcount has increased from 2,316 during fall 2014.

Fisher pointed out that academic preparedness continues to be the best predictor for students’ college success. In that spirit, student services staff members as well as faculty member Debra Nickles shared several initiatives in place to enroll more highly-qualified students and also identify at-risk students and work to get them back on track, academically.

Following the overview, those in attendance formulated strategies during breakout sessions related to four areas: advising/mentoring, instructional support, student life and retention strategies for the classroom.

Rather than just concepts, the dean challenged the group to develop practical steps to address student success.

“Consider what we are currently doing now and what we can do better,” the dean said. “I am looking for broad-based input, with both faculty and staff members in each discussion group. Further, I want for each group to identify some ‘doable’ strategies or action items that can be implemented.”

The discussion groups then developed, and shared, strategies that are tailored toward the Chillicothe Campus, and steps will be taken to implement the initiatives as the campus moves forward. As part of that next step, a similar planning session will be held in May to take as many ideas as possible from concept to reality.

LEARNING COMMUNITIES

In an initiative that is designed to further strengthen campus engagement and enrich students’ learning experiences, English faculty member Tony Vinci discussed the upcoming introduction of learning communities on campus. This concept is most often associated with residential campus and usually involves students with shared interests and/or academic pursuits being housed together.

To tailor this initiative to a commuter campus such as OU-C, students will take classes of different academic disciplines, which are focused on a central theme, back-to-back. This interdisciplinary approach allows students to approach a topic from different perspectives. It also encourages more collaboration among both the students and faculty members.

Vinci and art faculty member Darren Baker will pilot one such endeavor in fall semester 2015, while fellow English faculty member Nickles and sociology faculty member Marguerite Hernandez will introduce another pair of classes in this model.

The interaction between students is intended to deepen their connections to campus, which should support retention efforts.

STATE OF THE CAMPUS

Dean Tuck concluded the annual spring campus-wide meeting with a “State of the Campus” discussion, addressing OU-C’s strengths, threats and opportunities. The dean stressed that the campus is strong and positioned well for further success, with sound finances, a continued emphasis on student-focused teaching, good reputation in the community and a strategic approach to planning, as evidenced by the session.

In terms of positive factors, the dean mentioned:
•    Strong spring semester enrollment, with headcount up by 105 over a year ago
•    Applications and the number of admitted students for fall semester 2015 are ahead of last year’s pace
•    Hiring processes are moving forward
•    The new campus web site is close to being launched
•    The Chillicothe Campus portion of the university’s “Promise Lives” capital campaign has met its scholarship endowment goal and secured its first gifts toward the Academic Success Center

As for challenges, he pointed out:
•    Maintaining enrollment
•    Increasing retention and lowering the 43 percent rate of students on academic probation
•    Addressing the slight dip in  the number of FTE students
•    The impact of possible budget cuts due to enrollment and adjustments in the university’s responsibility-centered budget process, as well as the state’s subsidy model
•    Correcting the 35 percent student loan default rate by OU-C former students

Among upcoming projects and initiatives:
Academic
•    Hire associate director of nursing
•    Build relationships with high schools to implement College Credit Plus
•    Forge new academic partnerships with Pickaway-Ross Career Center and Southern State Community College
•    Develop programs for the Business Development Center, such as an entrepreneuralship certificate
•    Expand use of the Emergency Response Training Facility
Non-Academic
•    Shoemaker pedestrian bridge construction in progress; hope for completion by May 1 graduation event

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