Online system will help identify struggling students early in term

By Djamila Grossman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 7, 2005

An online system launched yesterday to boost university retention rates encourages professors to report students who are struggling to achieve.

Successnet, an online report system, focuses on Tier One and freshman composition classes, in which a report is sent to the student's academic advisor, who in turn contacts the student to solve the problem, said Guillermo Uribe, director of the University Learning Center.

Uribe said without Successnet it is impossible to recognize struggling students before the end of the first semester. Once on probationary status, students often give up and leave the university, Uribe said.

"A lot of students just don't find their place here on campus. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to say, 'I know you are here and I know you have a problem, just come and talk to me,' for things to turn around." Uribe said. "The program is not punitive at all, on the contrary, the referral is not going to reflect poorly."

The measure is part of a five-year plan to increase the university's retention rate, and to decrease the number of students on probationary status, Uribe said.

The UA's first-year retention rate is currently 79 percent, which compares to the bottom half of the peer institutions, Uribe said. The retention plan aims at 85 percent in order to "climb a few steps up."

"We are not bad at all. But we are losing two out of every 10 students, and that's not good for us," Uribe said. "We will position the university at the top half of the peers. We want to be better."

This will result in an overall better reputation, better students and more resources for the university, Uribe said. "It's a snowball. Everything is triggered by this little number. "

Nadine Martin, an adjunct instructor for geography and regional development, was one of the instructors who gained access to the program yesterday.

Martin said retention is a substantial issue in her freshman classes, with about 10 percent of the students dropping out during the semester.

"They just stop going to class and we don't know where they went," Martin said.

Even though Martin said she is not yet familiar with the details of Successnet, "anything that improves retention rate will be good."

Without an online report system, professors usually try to tackle the problem by organizing small lab sessions and study and presentation groups.

"I try to make myself as human as possible," Martin said.

But not all instructors welcome the news unconditionally.

Jennifer DeWinter, an English instructor, said while the program may have a positive impact on large classes there is a chance the relation is disturbed between student and instructor in smaller classes.

"I do think it might be helpful. An adviser might bring a human face to people," DeWinter said. "What I worry about is English, where we have to build a community in order to write."

Instructors might start to put less time into personal communication and "instead of walking up to students" when they are late, report them to the adviser, said DeWinter, internal affairs vice president for the Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Aerospace engineering freshman Chadrek Guthery said this is the first time he heard about Successnet and he doesn't know whether any of his instructors will use it, but he welcomes the project because "some people reach out for themselves and some can't do that."

Successnet's technical part was funded by the University Learning Center's annual budget, because the design team was Learning Center staff, Uribe said.

The Learning Center willalso manage the program for now, and the colleges are scheduled to coordinate the advisers, Uribe said.

Successnet received support from President Peter Likins and Jerry Hogle, vice provost for instruction. If proven successful, it might remain the only measure to increase retention, Uribe said.

"You always get a little butterflies in the tummy the first time you do something," Uribe said. "We are excited and we are confident that things are going to work well this whole semester and we hope that next semester is going to be even better."

Successnet will most likely be accessible for all instructors and teaching assistants in spring 2006.