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Helping freshmen turn into sophomores

Helping freshmen turn into sophomores

Freshmen move in

Marietta, Ga. (Jan. 13, 2012) Efforts to help freshmen make the challenging transition from high school to college are paying off at Southern Polytechnic State University. The number of students who return to the same university for their sophomore year – referred to by academicians as the freshmen retention rate – increased from 73 percent in Fall 2010 to 76 percent in Fall 2011.

Of the 587 first-time, full-time, degree-seeking freshmen who enrolled at SPSU in Fall 2010, 447 students were still enrolled in Fall 2011 and 47 (8 percent) left to enroll at other institutions in the University System of Georgia. The remaining 93 (15 percent) people dropped off the books for a variety of reasons, including economic issues.

Expanded on-campus housing, an introductory course (SPSU 1001) all about getting acclimated to and succeeding at SPSU and a wide variety of extracurricular student organizations and activities are helping SPSU students to feel plugged in to the campus community. Academic help is also plentiful, ranging from free tutoring to study-skills and time-management classes and advisors trained to help students figure out which major to pursue, how many courses to take per semester and which courses will help them reach their goal.

“Most of the national literature will tell you advising is the best thing you can do to improve your retention rate,” said Dr. Ron Koger, vice president for Student and Enrollment Services. “For some of our programs, students must be advised before they can even register.”

“We have strengthened our advising program across the board, hiring a professional student advisor for each of our schools and ensuring that faculty receive training in advisement as well,” said Dr. Zvi Szafran, vice president for Academic Affairs.

An early-warning system also heads off performance problems early on, added Dr. Koger. Professors fill out an Engagement Report on each student early in the semester that indicates whether a student is attending class regularly and if s/he actively participates in class. If a student is not showing up or not adequately involved in class activities, a letter is sent to their home address advising them that improvements are needed.

“As you might guess, a letter that arrives at a home address generally leads to parental involvement,” Dr. Koger noted wryly.

“The faculty and administrators in our schools are increasingly proactive these days when a student’s performance shows signs of faltering,” said Dr. Szafran. “They try to set up a meeting right away to find out what the problem is and how they can help the student get back on track.”

Along with ramping up student advisement, SPSU has made one of its other retention measures a permanent part of the landscape. Until now, the university has simply encouraged new students to take its optional SPSU 1001 course, which enables those new to campus to get to know each other, the campus culture and key administrators and faculty members. Now, as part of the SPSU Quality Enhancement Plan, the course has been made mandatory for all entering freshmen.

“We are pleased to see our retention efforts validated as successful,” said Dr. Szafran, “but we have lofty goals and will keep on working to make SPSU a welcoming and nurturing environment for all of our students.”

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