College deans make plans to boost retention rates

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As part of a university push to increase student retention rates from year to year, college deans recently developed detailed plans that could enhance academic services in several colleges.

CSUN Provost Harold Hellenbrand said the university is trying to improve retention rates this year through strengthening services and programs, such as mandatory advisement, academic tutoring, and mid-semester evaluations. Each dean presented his or her college’s retention rate plan at a recent Provost Council meeting on Sept. 13.

According to meeting minutes, training for faculty advisors, pilot staff advising, study skill workshops and the Early Warning System were among the general themes brought up by the deans.

Close to 76 percent of first-time freshmen at CSUN who started in 2002 came back for a second year. At CSU Fresno, 84 percent came back, and at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the figure rose to 90 percent.

Additionally, 36 percent of students who entered CSUN in 1998 graduated within six years, according to CSU data.

Gordon Nakagawa, associate dean for the College of Humanities, said his college’s strategy to improve retention rates is to consistently lead freshmen in the right direction by working closely with the college’s Student Services Center/EOP and providing faculty with an advising coordinator training program.

Nakagawa said EOP first-time freshmen in the College of Humanities have thorough one-on-one advisement sessions and can also schedule advising appointments for their second semesters.

“We have (done) excellent work with advising our freshmen,” Nakagawa said. “(Students) know exactly what their expectations are.”

Nakagawa said the college is also working with non-EOP first-time freshmen by merging together advising and mentoring together like what is done for EOP students.

“We have tried to integrate mentoring with advisement,” he said.

A faculty advising coordinator in each department in the college takes responsibility of organizing both major and minor advisement activity, according to Nakagawa.

“This is a very good system to deliver advisement,” he said, because “people don’t have to guess anymore.”

According to Nakagawa, in a couple of weeks, faculty advising coordinators will go over new guidelines and policies and talk about issues students might be facing.

In certain 100-level classes, faculty members identify freshmen who are struggling or might be struggling with their first papers and examinations and the understanding of material, then SSC/EOP is asked to follow up with individual students to help them along in the classes, according to Nakagawa.

“SSC/EOP is very limited,” Nakagawa said. “But it’s working out very well.”

Michael Kabo, associate dean for College of Engineering and Computer Science, said that in an effort to improve retention rates, he checks every semester to make sure every student meets prerequisites, and he identifies students who are not qualified to take classes beyond a certain level because of lack of prerequisites.

Kabo said the college is very careful to look at all students’ records and schedules to make sure that they have the ability to pass and succeed in the college’s courses.

“Our college is specific in that it is very critical to take (prerequisite) courses in the proper sequence – because it’s a building process,” he said.

As part of the Engineering and Computer Science’s retention plan, particular attention has been paid to residents of the ECS Living Learning Community, one of several LLCs in the University Park Apartments, Kabo said.

According to Kabo, the college has 39 students in the ECS LLC and provides residents with one-on-one tutoring four nights a week.

“I personally follow up (with) each of the students in the group,” he said, adding that the tutoring is an obvious benefit for students.

“We know because 85 percent of students who take the tutoring registry pass the courses,” Kabo said.

College of Engineering and Computer Science began recognizing students through Academic Progress Achievement Awards, a program started last year to encourage College of ECS students to get degrees in a timely manner, according to Kabo.

“This is recognition of good academic progress,” he said.

Awards go to students who stay on track, accumulating at least 25 units per year for the silver award and at least 32 units per year for the gold award, according to Kabo.

Last year, 97 students applied for the college’s award program, and this year 157 students applied, which means more students have more units, he said.

“We keep in touch with them (and) encourage them to keep going on (with) their education,” he said.

Vicki Pedone, interim associate dean for the College of Science and Mathematics, said the college’s unique strategies to improve retention include a tutoring program provided by the college’s SSC/EOP center, the Summer Health Professionals Pre-Entry Program, and a University 100 Science and Mathematics course, in addition to mandatory academic advisement and mid-semester evaluations.

Through the College of SM SSC/EOP, students are able to sign up for full-hour private tutoring for 15 100-level classes and several 200 and 300-level classes, Pedone said.

She said the CSM SSC/EOP center had more than 300 tutor contacts last year, but the funding for the tutoring services was threatened, and the college is now sending out proposals to find new funding for the program.

Jerry Stinner, dean for College of Science and Mathematics, said that for freshman science and mathematics majors, it is important to select their majors early to go on in the proper sequence since it takes long time for students to finish majors.

“(Freshmen) don’t know the university,” he said. “(They don’t know) how to put together a study plan and courses to graduate.”

In an effort to encourage freshmen to have a connection with faculty and other same-major students and develop a proper academic plan, the college offers one university 100 SM class section only for science and mathematics students, according to Pedone.

University 100 SM is currently undergoing curriculum review to hopefully operate two sections next fall, according to Pedone.

“(It’s under) redesign to really focus on important things all freshmen need to know to be successful in (the) university,” Pedone said.

For freshmen, obtaining some of the study skills and getting used to the transition is difficult, so the college helps freshmen get on track by providing study skills workshops and advising transitions, Stinner said.

Pedone said it is important to make more freshmen to feel connected with the campus to improve retention.

The College of Science and Mathematics is trying to find out which students did not return as science or mathematics majors to figure out what happened to try and improve retention, according to Pedone.

“The university is trying to find out the information,” she said.

Aya Oikawa can be reached at aya.oikawa.73@csun.edu.