Staying Power

September 30, 2005
Staying Power

To help students have successful experiences through their college years, Baylor is planning several initiatives designed to increase student learning and satisfaction, said Diana Ramey, assistant vice president for enrollment management. "Retention is an outcome of really great educational experiences," she said.
A task force of about 60 faculty and staff members was formed last March to determine areas within the students' college experience that need improvement. Members of the task force also have met with student focus groups and collected data from freshmen surveys, Ramey said.
Much of students' academic success depends on how engaged they become with the learning process, said Elizabeth Davis, vice provost for academic relations. "National studies of student retention indicate that the degree to which students are engaged academically, both in and out of the classroom, affects their learning experience and thus impacts the degree to which they will remain at the University," she said. 
To this end, Baylor gave a more academic focus to summer orientation sessions and Welcome Week this year to help students make the transition from high school to college. Seminars on study skills, staying healthy and time management were offered, and more faculty members were included in Welcome Week events. "The idea is not to lower expectations so that students can succeed, but to give them the tools to succeed at present standards," Davis said.
Changes are being considered for Chapel Fridays, initiated in 2003 as a six-week program to help students start thinking about student success issues. Next year, the Friday groups may be extended through one semester. This year, learning communities -- groups of 20 students who share some common classes and are in the same Chapel Friday groups -- will be given a trial run at two residence halls. 
Administrators also are evaluating the quality and accessibility of campus services and next year will address course availability concerns expressed by students, Ramey said.
Another key area slated for change is the Baylor Success Center, which includes academic advisement, career counseling and goal development, academic support programs, student-athlete services, and access and learning accommodations. Plans are being developed to renovate the Sid Richardson Science Building and move all of the center's services under one roof.
Currently, professors can notify the Success Center when a student misses class frequently or is doing poorly with class work, and an adviser will contact the student. This fall, the online referral system was made more accessible to instructors, allowing easier and earlier response. "We tend to think that students leave because of changed financial situations or because they are not academically suited. But there could be other issues that need to be addressed," Davis said. "Just by letting someone know a student isn't coming to class, we have the opportunity to intervene, provide students the help they need and keep them at Baylor, if that is the right solution."
A new position has been created to address the expected increase in referrals. A free tutoring service also is planned, and staff will continue to advertise the center's services and, an online tutoring service provided free to Baylor students.
Sally Firmin, director of academic support programs and a member of the task force, said that moving from a model that relied solely on the Division of Student Life for student satisfaction and retention to one that includes all areas of campus is beneficial to freshmen and all students. "It's hard to compartmentalize a student's life, to say, 'This is academic and this is not,'" she said. "This shift was not to improve a situation that wasn't good, but to bring it along further."
Baylor's first-year retention rate, currently about 83 percent, is 3 percentage points above the average for comparable institutions and has remained steady since the 1980s, but Ramey said the University continues to seek improvement. Baylor 2012 goals are to increase first-year freshman retention rates to 93 percent and the six-year graduation rate, currently 70 percent, to 80 percent.