New programs aim to restructure the inner workings of academic advising.
Across the board at Temple, the retention rate for freshmen is approximately 85 percent, which means 15 percent of first-year students will drop out before entering their sophomore year.
In order to keep students in school and on track, Peter Jones, the senior vice provost of undergraduate studies said new programs are being implemented in academic advising offices around the university.
The risk-based retention program and critical paths program are the most vital part of the university’s effort to increase retention and graduation rates, Jones said.
The risk-based retention program, which has been in the works for about one-and-a-half years, Jones said, is currently being used for freshmen in the College of Liberal Arts, the division of university studies, the School of Communications and Theater, the Fox School of Business, the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, the Russell Conwell Center, student athletic advising and honors programs.
“In those areas, mainly what [the program is] doing is using a risk model developed by the university to identify students who are at the highest risk of dropping out of the university in the freshman year,” Jones said, noting the university developed its own computer program to rank students.
“We’re targeting the Top 10 or the Top 20 percent of students at risk,” he added. “We actually provide a risk level for every student. We rank them, and we take the Top 10 and the Top 20 percent. We call them ‘Risk Ones’ and ‘Risk Twos.’”
For students in Risk One, the retention rate is about 66 percent; 33 percent of the students in the highest risk will end up dropping out. About 30 percent of students in Risk Two will, as well.
“Both of those are twice the university average,” Jones said. “In those areas where we have been developing the risk model and the intervention model, the actual dropout rate [is] below the university average.”
Jones said advisers interact with at-risk students as they would with any student, but they attempt to contact them about five times a semester via phone calls, e-mails and in-person meetings.
“The students are generally unaware of the fact that the advisers are probably interacting with them at a much higher level than they are with other students,” Jones said.
“I know advisers can’t keep track of every single student at the university and their issues,” Ariel Mydlo, a junior psychology major said. “A lot of things you have to figure out on your own … there’s a lot of things I found out on my own, whereas I felt like there should have been an adviser telling me about it first.”
Jones said the university is currently focusing on developing risk and intervention models for sophomores because 15 percent of sophomores also drop out, but for different reasons than freshmen.
While the risk-based retention program is being applied to select freshmen, the critical paths program, which is still inactive, aims to keep all students on track in their respective majors.
“It’s a map for every student and every major as to what to do,” Jones said. “The critical paths [program] is an overlay of that, where we asked faculty to give us what they would consider to be critical marking points along a student’s eight-semester career.”
“The faculty described what these markers are, and what we are going to do is program those into the new Banner system so that we will be able to communicate with students … the system should inform them [of recommended classes],” Jones added.
The new system will allow the university to link the current registration activity of students with their past academic history, Jones said.
“The idea is to really inform students, at the point of decision-making, that there are certain courses or certain things that they should be doing,” Jones said. “It’s part of a general effort for the university to be very proactive to identify problems early on and to intervene in a way to make sure students keep on track.”
The university has yet to appoint someone to direct the program, Jones said.
Grace D’Entremont, a sophomore education major, said she thinks having such a program in place would be helpful.
“I think that targeting students to come out for advising would be a helpful thing because I think making an advising appointment is something that students really aren’t thinking about,” D’Entremont said. “If the effort was put out by someone else to get them an appointment and have them come in it might help them redirect where they should be focusing their attention with their classes.”
While Jones said student retention and graduation rates are the focus of these two initiatives, Temple is also focused on keeping advisers at the university for longer periods.
“We have just spent the last year and a half reorganizing academic advising throughout the university,” Jones said. “We just created this new organizational ladder for academic advisers in Temple.”
Human Resources has been the driving force behind the new levels of advising that faculty can reach and has created a professional development program to give advisers the necessary training to move up the career ladder, Jones said.
“Ironically enough, we’ve had problems of turnover with academic advisers in the past,” Jones said. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to retain advisers so that students will meet an adviser as [freshmen] and that same person will be there a year or two later.”
As of January, there are five different levels for academic advisers: associate adviser, adviser one, adviser two, senior adviser and principal adviser, Jones said.
“It used to be that when we hired advisers, you’d be hired as an academic adviser and five years later, you’d still be an academic adviser,” Jones said, adding that there were no other positions. “We have to recognize that some advisers are really good. They learn special skills and we need to have a career path that reflects that.”
Jones said in order to recruit and retain advisers, administrators also looked at salary levels to stay competitive in the market place.
“We had a problem of losing some of our best advisers to other institutions,” Jones said. “Now we can recruit people to Temple and they can come in to whatever is the appropriate level for their skills and experience, and they have a career path ahead of them, to which they can be promoted.”
While advising units throughout the university used to act independently, Jones said the new levels are creating consistency across Temple.
“We’ve equalized those across the university … everybody that is a level one adviser should be making roughly the same salary and there are salary minima at each of those levels,” Jones said.
“We also had significant movement of advisers within the university,” Jones added. “Advisers would leave academic units where the salaries were not so high and move to academic units where the salaries might have been a little better, even though the job was essentially the same thing.”
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.