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Retention plan puts UA on top

By Jeffrey Javier
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 2, 2005
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The UA became the first major college to receive the 10th annual Best Practices award for student retention at a national retention symposium.

The retention project, "From Precious Individuals to Meaningful Data, and Back Again: A Data-driven, College-based Strategic Retention Master Plan," is the first retention plan at the UA to directly help students stay in college and graduate, said Lynette Cook-Francis, assistant vice president for multicultural affairs and student success.

The plan is the first of its kind for a major university, said Lynne Tronsdal, assistant vice president for student retention.

Past winning schools were mostly small liberal arts institutions or community colleges that had strong retention plans because they rely on students to stay open, Tronsdal said.

"This is very unusual for a large university like the UA to win because other large universities just up admission standards to up retention," Tronsdal said.

Other universities that were nominated for the award were the University of Utah, University of Texas and University of Minnesota.

The retention plan took 18 months of data research from students, deans, parents and another six months to write the plan. One of the major goals of the plan is to increase student retention from 79 percent to 85 percent for all first-time, full-time freshmen by 2010, Tronsdal said.

Another initiative is to reduce the number of students on academic probation after their first year from 20 percent to 15 percent by 2007 and 15 percent to 10 percent by 2010, according to the strategic retention master plan document.

Three of the 13 strategies and 53 action plans have been used this year to examine the university's effectiveness and to evaluate what works, Cook-Francis said.

"In less than a month another group of plans will be put into place and then we will evaluate which ones had the most impact," Cook-Francis said. "Every year we will re-address the plan and see what plans may no longer be relevant or needed and, hopefully, all of the plans won't be necessary."

One of those future plans involves data collection and analysis about course availability at the UA, which stemmed from the continuing problem of students coming into their majors and finding out there is not enough room and not enough teachers, Tronsdal said.

The three retention plans being tested are Math Boot Camp, Early Alert-Success Net and Exit Intervention, Tronsdal said.

Math Boot Camp is a tutoring program for students who did not get into college math and were chosen to participate in a less expensive, more personalized program than math courses at Pima Community College. In doing so, these students can better prepare for math classes at the UA, Tronsdal said.

"Math is a real problem because when students come here to do math it is at a much faster pace than Pima, and those students who were sent there to get prepared aren't ready when they take the class here," Tronsdal said.

Early Alert-Success Net is an early warning system that instructors and professors can use to warn advisers about a student failing or not coming to class, Tronsdal said. The program enables advisers to help students get back on track, she said.

"Five hundred students were referred by 50 instructors in the first eight weeks of this semester," Tronsdal said about the program's success.

The third plan, Exit Intervention, is a program that involves interviews between students who left the university to find out why they left. Although they are unsure who will be making the phone calls, once that person assesses why the student left they can try to recruit them to come back.

"The plan focuses on developing a better understanding of why students are leaving and to offer them options to come back," Cook-Francis said.

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