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Retention
3/15/2017 12:00 AM
Coming to a new country where you don't speak the language or know the customs can be tough — now imagine that you are also expected to earn a degree. Welcome to the world of many international graduate students.

Coming to a new country where you don't speak the language or know the customs can be tough — now imagine that you are also expected to earn a degree. Welcome to the world of many international graduate students.

“International student recruitment has emerged as an integral strategy for many institutions to overcome financial challenges,” said Rahul Choudaha, co-founder and CEO of DrEducation (a U.S.-based research and consulting firm). “However, few institutions have been proactive and successful in adapting and expanding support services for international students. An unbalanced focus on recruitment will affect student experiences, which in turn will hurt future recruitment potential.”

At the 2016 NAGAP Annual Conference in Nashville, Choudaha and colleagues presented on the strategies being employed to support this population of students. The presenters included Thomas P. Rock, vice provost for enrollment services at Teachers College, Columbia University; Jewell G. Winn, executive director for international programs and deputy chief diversity officer, Tennessee State University; and Daniel Chatham, director of graduate programs, University of California, Riverside.

Read on to learn the details of three strategies you may want to try to support students on your campus.

Academic Immersion Seminar

Teachers College at Columbia University created its six-week program, which was inaugurated during the summer of 2016, to help new students acclimate before classes officially start.

“With a growing international student population at Teachers College, we wanted to create a program to help these students maximize their experiences and to set them up for success,” Rock said. “This is not an English language proficiency or immersion program. Rather, this is an acculturation and assimilation program so that our international students will be successful at Teachers College in their very first academic course.”

The optional course is open to students who will be enrolled full-time and is pass/fail. During the program, students have a chance to do the following:

  • Engage in courses that will teach them about the college and academic standards.
  • Learn about how to navigate the library, engage with faculty and other students, give oral presentations, and conduct academic research.
  • Be paired with an experienced student-mentor, who will be there to help the student transition into the college during the fall semester.

“During this launch, we opted for self-selection. But for the next cohort, we also want faculty members to recommend students to the program during the admission review process,” Rock said. “If we are successful with those changes, we are optimistic that we will have many more students taking advantage of this unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the environment and academics prior to the start of the full semester.”

For more information, visit http://tc.columbia.edu/tcimmersion.

First Friends

In five years, Tennessee State University has seen its international student population go from 79 to 853 students.

“As our office grew astronomically in a few short years, we knew that we needed to implement a program to make these students feel welcome,” Winn explained.

So the First Friends program was created, which international students can join during their first semester at the university. The program pairs each international student with up to three of the following friends:

  • Regional peer — A student from the same region of the world as the international student who provides information and guidance to ease the transition to the U.S. university experience.
  • Academic peer — A current student enrolled in the same degree program as the international student who has a GPA above 2.75 and provides an academic perspective to help manage successful progression.
  • Community peer — A local citizen from the Nashville area who provides both cultural and cross-cultural support for the international students.

One success story from the program that sticks out in Winn's mind involved a student from India who arrived in Nashville at 1 a.m. with no housing and no one to call.

“The next day she came to our office with her suitcases, and we told her about the First Friends program,” she said. “We found her a regional peer within an hour, and her life has not been the same since. For example, she and her regional peer are now roommates. The student told us that she will be forever indebted to us for having such an impactful program that she could be a part of.”

For more information, visit http://www.tnstate.edu/diversity/international/firstfriend.aspx.

Revamped MBA model

“There is an increasing realization in academic literature that traditional MBA curricula are teaching the wrong students the wrong things at the wrong time in their careers,” Chatham said.

That is what prompted a review of professional readiness and outcomes of the MBA program at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Riverside, where international enrollment has grown substantially over the last three years.

“Through a faculty survey assessing the extent to which the school teaches international awareness and other 21st-century skills, we saw some disagreement in how much this was purposely developed within our student experience,” he said. “We further recognized there would be benefits to teaching more than the traditional onboarding information that international students receive and decided to approach internationalization from both a domestic and international perspective, through existing curricular channels and new extra- or co-curricular methods.”

The school's curriculum review process is ongoing, but its support services are currently getting a face-lift. For example, the following strategies are being put into action:

  • International services such as academic, social, and mental health are now being highlighted during orientation.
  • The Career Development Center has instituted additional training and practice sessions specifically for international students to refine job-search skills they may be exposed to for the first time.
  • Cultural skills workshops for both domestic and international students that include topics such as communication skills, personal space, time sensitivities, and other components are offered.
  • Plans are being drawn up for more intrusive advising, based on academic indicators from admissions, continued monitoring of grades, feedback from faculty, and greater involvement of academic advisors with the student body.

“Since implementing most of these efforts, we see greater cohesion within the student body, improved experiences in team settings, and greater retention of international students,” Chatham said. “To be sure, we still have much to do to fully develop the academic advising program. The academic curriculum review now has new frameworks that will help ensure international awareness is a skill developed comprehensively within the student experience, and for all students, regardless of national origin.”


Retention
3/23/2016 12:00 AM

Mars Hill University in North Carolina was created to provide educational opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t have them. That was in 1856, and the institution has undergone a few name changes since then.

Mars Hill University in North Carolina was created to provide educational opportunities for students who otherwise wouldn’t have them. That was in 1856, and the institution has undergone a few name changes since then.

But the student population today at the rural liberal arts college is about 56 percent Pell-eligible, and about the same proportion of students are first-generation. “They’re getting to college not necessarily knowing what to do or how to get it to work,” said Jason Pierce, associate vice president for academic affairs and information services.

In 2012, the retention rate from the first to second year was 54 percent. About 12 to 15 percent of first-year students transferred, and the rest were no longer enrolled in higher education. “If they’re not passing to the second year, we’ve done them a disservice,” Pierce said. But if students get to the second year, the rate at which they stay through graduation at Mars Hill is quite high.

The institution’s president announced a goal to boost retention by 10 percent.

When officials conducted research to discover what problems were keeping students from persisting, they realized that the barriers included:

  • First-generation students questioned whether they had made the right choice by going to college.
  • Students lacked financial literacy.
  • Students did not understand the language of higher education.

To combat the problems they were seeing and encourage students to develop good habits, officials created the First Year Connections program. Freshmen in the program receive $3,000 grants on the condition that they take certain actions, such as meeting with their academic advisors, participating in workshops on financial literacy, getting help at the math and writing labs — all things they should be doing anyway, Pierce said.

“We have all sorts of programs to help them, and they stay away in droves,” Pierce said. First Year Connections forces students to take advantage of those programs.

To earn the grant, students must accumulate 1,500 points each semester, or a point for each dollar of grant money. They earn points for activities such as hearing a visiting speaker, keeping a reflection journal, attending a financial literacy course, and visiting the writing center. The points are not based on the time students spend on the activity. They are meant to measure the activities in qualitative rather than quantitative ways. “If you just clock in and clock out, you might not be benefiting,” Pierce said.

Some of the activities, such as keeping a reflection journal, might also be class assignments for credit.

Officials funded the program by reallocating money from institutional work study. Nationwide, 65 percent of students who are offered work study take it, and they complete 65 percent of the hours offered them. At Mars Hill, the figures are 85 percent and 85 percent, Pierce said. There wasn’t enough work for students to do, so many of them thought of their work-study jobs as places to do homework. They weren’t learning skills that would benefit them in the workforce.

To see whether the First Year Connections program was effective, eligible students were assigned at random to either work study or to the program. Because this is the first year the program has been implemented on a large scale, the data about its success are not complete. One early indicator that the grant program is having positive results is that students in it are more likely to register early than those in work study. They registered early at the same rate as students who were not eligible for the program because they did not have sufficient financial need. Those students are more likely to have parents who remind them to register.

Personal touch helps with retention

Officials at Mars Hill encourage faculty and staff members to connect with students in ways that boost retention, and they have put technological solutions in place to help with that. Parents love to hear that the classes are small and almost all the professors are full-time, so students can’t hide or get lost, Pierce said.

One way administrators encourage persistence is to discuss financial options with students. Sometimes students think they need to leave to get a job. Perhaps their parents lost their jobs, and the student needs to help. Sometimes they do need to leave, Pierce said.

But officials work with them to make sure they understand what their options are if they have any flexibility. They help students understand that they could make some money right now working at a big box store or they could make a lot more money in the future if they finish their degree, Pierce said.

Plus, faculty use an early alert system to get help for struggling students. And they report every student who is absent on the first day of class to the director of student persistence. If a student misses every first class, officials work quickly to find out whether the student is coming back. Sometimes the student decided not to return. But sometimes officials contact the student, and he says, “Oh, it’s this week?”

Some students don’t have access to email when they get home, and they forget when the first day of classes is, Pierce said. And some students think they have until the add deadline to return. In fact, some students who didn’t register in advance come back on the add deadline and add all their classes that day, Pierce said.

Rafter 360 addresses problem of high book costs

Mars Hill officials repeatedly heard from faculty that students did not have the books for their classes. They didn’t have the money to buy them. Even though the institution’s website and the admissions office informed students they needed money for books, the students often didn’t save it to have on hand for book purchases, Pierce said. For freshman-level math courses, instructors required students to purchase online access codes for materials that accompanied the books. Students who bought the books often used the trial access code that worked for four weeks, but they didn’t buy the permanent code and stopped doing their homework when the trial code ran out. The exam was usually in the fifth week. The students couldn’t pass the course without access to the materials and stopped showing up. It was too late to drop the course.

Many faculty members put copies of textbooks on reserve. But so few students were buying books that publishers began to refuse to send instructor copies, Pierce said.

Plus the bookstore wasn’t making money. Every year, the president and the business office discussed what to do about it. But they couldn’t shut it down. Many students didn’t have credit cards, so they couldn’t go online to buy their books. And among those who could buy books online, many freshman- and sophomore-level students didn’t understand that was an option, Pierce said.

Officials solved the problems with access to books by contracting with the Rafter 360 program, Pierce said. Rafter provides the books, and students return them at the end of the semester. Mars Hill officials rolled the cost of books into tuition so that students can use their financial aid to cover their books, and they pay up front. Students pay a flat-rate tuition if they register for 12 to 20 hours, so the cost of books does not influence how many hours they choose to take. Mars Hill raised tuition a small amount when it implemented the Rafter program, but the increase was significantly less than the cost students would have paid for books if they were purchasing them, Pierce said.

Instructors adopt the books the semester before they need them. They have until a certain date, and then the university has to pay a late fee to add the book.

The books are shipped to the Mars Hill bookstore, where staff members organize them and then prepare bags for the students based on their schedule. The students bring their ID to the bookstore and pick up the books. It takes less than five minutes, Pierce said. Rafter will also ship books directly to students if institution officials choose to have them delivered that way, he added.

At the end of the term, students must return the books. If they do not, they are charged for them. Very few students keep books, Pierce said. According to research nationally, only 2 to 3 percent of college textbooks are kept by students.

Email Jason Pierce at jpierce@mhu.edu.

Admissions
2/22/2016 12:00 AM

At any given time, students at your institution of higher education are receiving emails, phone calls, texts and social-media communication from every possible corner of their lives.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. ­­­— At any given time, students at your institution of higher education are receiving emails, phone calls, texts and social-media communication from every possible corner of their lives. How do you make sure that your most important messages are getting through to them? In a session at the Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Julie Schulte, the assistant registrar for technology at the University of Oregon, held a brainstorming session to develop guidelines for best practices for communicating with students to make sure that your messages don’t get lost in all the noise. Use the following challenges and suggestions to help tweak your own campus communication system for maximum efficiency.

Student feedback is often a difficult measure to guide communication policies on campus since, as many participants pointed out, students are not uniform in their wants regarding communication channels. Adult students often desire a telephone call and a personal relationship to receive notifications, while younger students often report more interest in text messaging. Email is the most universally requested platform, but students receive so many email notifications daily that it is the platform most likely to lead to missed messaging. “At what point is it our responsibility to communicate with students rather than the student’s responsibility to understand their responsibility to adhere to guidelines?” Schulte said.

Standing out in the sea of emails

Schulte asked for audience participation regarding communication types and challenges on individual campuses. Lindsay Stadler of Claremont Graduate University shared that for her campus, “All official communications come through email — but then we have students telling us they never received the message.” This was a common sentiment echoed throughout the room — how can Registrar’s Offices make sure that students receive the messages and what are the consequences for the institution as well as the student if they don’t? One possible solution was offered by a representative of Brigham Young University, who detailed her campus’s YMessage system, a homegrown central portal through which all official campus communications are passed to students. There, system administrators have a log of messages sent by administrators that are time-stamped to note when they were read by students. The portal also contains other important student information, such as icons for tasks that need to be completed, upcoming scheduling notes, and financial aid verification. However, even that system is imperfect — the representative from BYU noted that the campus still required multiple logins for different Student Information Systems on campus, making the YMessage portal less user-friendly for the student. And, of course, there remains the problem of ensuring that students actually log in and read their messages.

One barrier brought up regarding email communications to students was the disparity between information that makes sense from your perspective and information that will make sense to a student reading the communication. Leesa Beck of the University of California, Santa Barbara, related an anecdote regarding the overhaul of subject lines at UCSB. Beck reported that her office saw a huge change in student open and response rates when the Registrar’s Office changed to an attention-grabbing subject line, such as “You are no longer enrolled at UCSB.” 

Best practices for catching students’ attention with email

  • Post text of emails on an advisors resource page on the registrar’s website to get feedback on wording from student advisors as well as keep them in the loop about important communications and dates sent out.
  • Make sure that the most important text of your email communication fits in the screen of a cell phone, so that students understand the bulk of what they need to know in the first few lines of your email.
  • Consider divvying up communications from different offices at the beginning of the year by day (i.e., registrars send emails only on Thursdays). This will help prevent daily email information overload for students.
  • Alternate who sends out email messages to provide different voices to appeal to different types of students.
  • Ask the student-workers in your office and on campus to provide feedback on your email communications and subject lines — how readable are your emails from a student perspective?

Explore challenges of reaching students through text

Another session member, Sandy Hendrickson of Northwest University, shared that her campus had implemented text messages as a communication system to students on campus. Hendrickson reported an increased response rate from students, but there were plenty of challenges still to navigate with this communication system as well, including:

  • Administrators may have to use their personal cell phones to generate text messages to students — who pays for the service plan?
  • Mass messages will have to be generated through email — it’s not practical to send mass texts to thousands of students, in which case administrators would need both phone numbers and phone carriers for all students. Text messages offer only a limited number of characters, in which case directing students back to email creates only a longer chain of communication for students to follow.

However, another participant from Brigham Young University in Idaho related a different method to using text messages to students. After realizing that students were missing key deadlines for important markers — paying tuition and registering for classes, among others — BYU contracted with a third-party provider to send three text messages per semester. The opt-in system, advertised for students on social media, sends one text message for each deadline to notify students of drop, withdraw and discontinuance deadlines for the semester. The participant reported a large increase in success for meeting student deadlines with the new system, helping students to avoid missing deadlines and being blinded by notices that they are no longer registered at their university.

Give students incentives to read your communications

A participant from BYU Hawaii recounted an on-campus initiative to build student accountability for meeting dates, called the RSVP Initiative. Students receive dates and deadlines to get everything lined up for their next semester, and these dates are well before the final deadlines. Students who make these early deadlines receive early opportunities to register for classes. If students miss these deadlines, they are assigned later registration windows but aren’t in danger of being kicked out of school. While BYU Hawaii didn’t offer hard statistics for how well this program is working, anecdotal evidence suggests an upswing in early registration rates, meaning students are hitting the earlier deadlines. This also helps students learn to be accountable without dire consequences if they don’t meet deadlines.

Schulte also shared ideas for involving parents in helping to grow student accountability. Her office has a policy of refusing to talk to parents regarding student deadlines, which serves as a way to help grow accountability while at the same time complying with FERPA regulations. However, Schulte added that her campus issues a newsletter with dates and deadlines for students and parents to understand upcoming academic timelines. Schulte also handed out magnets with important deadlines to parents at orientation, another strategy that worked well for her campus. “We want to see our relationship with parents as a partnership to help students become accountable,” Schulte said.

One agreed-upon best practice for communicating with students is to layer types of communication and methods of communication delivery. This makes it that much more difficult for students to miss important deadlines or to ignore messages. Types of communication layering at campuses include email, text messages, phone calls, physical mailings, portal communications, live chat options on the website, social-media postings, monitors in buildings with important dates, and even physical banners on campus buildings advertising important dates.

Providing students with a cafeteria of options for messaging, with students self-selecting which methods of messaging they prefer along with the types of messages they desire, is another way of ensuring that your students’ important communications are layered, although this method is more complicated and might require more manpower or backend coding than some campuses can accommodate. By giving students the opt-in clause, campuses can create an atmosphere of customer service for students, give students the option to decide which method of communication is most effective for their individual needs, and hopefully ensure more effective communication across the board.

9/17/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Webb-Eaton v. Wayne County Community College District, No. 12-14821 (E.D. Mich. 07/24/13).

Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the plaintiff’s discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Case name: Webb-Eaton v. Wayne County Community College District, No. 12-14821 (E.D. Mich. 07/24/13).

Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan dismissed the plaintiff’s discrimination claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

What it means: Although learning qualifies as a major life activity under the ADA, learning a specific career is not covered by the statute.

Summary: Tenita Webb-Eaton suffered from a latex allergy that interfered with her ability to participate fully in the Wayne County Community College District’s nursing curriculum. After a series of incidents where she was exposed to latex and had severe allergic reactions, she filed suit in federal court. Webb-Eaton alleged that WCCCD violated her rights under the ADA by failing to accommodate her latex allergy.

The ADA defines “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” Accordingly, to conclude that a person is disabled, a court must find that (1) there is a physical impairment, (2) which affects a major life activity identified by the plaintiff, and (3) substantially limits that life activity.

The college sought dismissal of the claim on the grounds that Webb-Eaton’s latex allergy did not substantially limit learning within the meaning of the ADA.

The Court agreed with the college. The judge ruled that although learning was a major life activity, the inability to pursue a particular course of study did not amount to a substantial limitation of the major life activity of learning. The court dismissed Webb-Eaton’s claim.

9/10/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Letter to: State University of New York at Binghamton, No. 02-12-2023 (OCR 06/26/12).

Ruling: The Office for Civil Rights determined that the State University of New York at Binghamton discriminated against a former student because his disability was one of the reasons that he was denied readmission to a graduate program.

Case name: Letter to: State University of New York at Binghamton, No. 02-12-2023 (OCR 06/26/12).

Ruling: The Office for Civil Rights determined that the State University of New York at Binghamton discriminated against a former student because his disability was one of the reasons that he was denied readmission to a graduate program.

What it means: OCR may find that a college or university violated an individual’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Rehabilitation Act if the decision to deny him admission to an educational program was partly influenced by his disclosure that he has a disability.

Summary: OCR investigated a former student’s allegation that Binghamton University denied him readmission to its Master of Public Administration program because of his disability (Asperger syndrome).

OCR found that the complainant was first admitted to the program as an “unconditional student” in the fall of 2010. However, in October 2010 the assistant director for graduate studies notified him that there were concerns regarding his communication and analytical skills. His cumulative GPA for that semester was 2.89.

The graduate studies policy required a minimum GPA of 3.0 plus a minimum of 3.0 for each credit that counted toward a graduate degree. As a result of the complainant’s failure to maintain the minimum GPA, he was dismissed from the program. In the spring of 2011, the complainant retook some courses as a nonmatriculated student. He disclosed his disability to one of the professors. The professor advised him to register with the disability services office because faculty had received training where they’d been told that only disclosure to the DS office could serve as certification of a disability.

The complainant applied for readmission in March 2011. His application was reviewed and denied by a committee that consisted of the department chair, the assistant director, and the professor to whom the complainant disclosed his disability.

OCR found that only one other student — a non-disabled individual — had been dismissed for failing to maintain the minimum GPA. That student was readmitted despite the fact that the committee members who reviewed his application expressed many concerns about his ability to succeed. The readmitted student’s record was similar to the complainant’s.

As a result, OCR concluded that the university did not proffer solely legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the decision to deny the complainant’s readmission application.

The university resolved the noncompliance issue by entering into a resolution agreement that, among other things, called for providing training to all administrators and faculty involved in making admissions decisions.

9/5/2013 12:00 AM

Case name: Letter to: Anonymous parents (FPCO 12/08/11).

Ruling: The Family Policy Compliance Office concluded that a school district did not violate the complainants’ rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because the grade they sought to amend in their child’s education records was accurately recorded.

Case name: Letter to: Anonymous parents (FPCO 12/08/11).

Ruling: The Family Policy Compliance Office concluded that a school district did not violate the complainants’ rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act because the grade they sought to amend in their child’s education records was accurately recorded.

What it means: FERPA’s right to amend gives parents and eligible students the opportunity to seek amendment of education records that they believe contain inaccurate or misleading information. If the request is denied, the educational institution must advise the parents or eligible student that they have a right to a hearing. Finally, if after the hearing the educational agency or institution refuses to amend the education record, the parents or eligible student have the right to insert a statement in the record that must remain with it for as long as it is maintained by the agency or institution.

Summary: The FPCO replied to a complaint filed by the parents of a student who was enrolled in a K–12 school. The parents alleged that the school district violated their rights under FERPA because it failed to amend the grade for a test taken by their child. They also claimed that the school refused to remove the results of an IQ test administered to their child without their authorization.

The FPCO explained that although FERPA affords parents the right to seek to amend education records that contain inaccurate information, this right cannot be used to challenge a grade, an individual’s opinion, or a substantive decision. The agency noted that the grade they sought to amend had been accurately recorded by the school.

With respect to the IQ test allegedly administered without the parents’ consent, the FPCO explained that FERPA does not generally restrict a school from creating records. But it does provide certain protections as discussed above to education records. The agency recommended that the parents contact their state department of education for assistance in the matter.

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