Officials hope changes to advising, classes, tests will remedy woes

BY JOHN KREROWICZ
jkrerowicz@kenoshanews.com

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Changes made to counter anemic graduation and retention rates are starting to produce some results at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, officials said.

DeAnn Possehl, Parkside associate vice chancellor for enrollment management, said modifications in counseling, some policies, test score reviews, the approach to remedial courses and other actions have boosted the campus’ retention rate for this school year.

Year-to-year retention rates for freshmen climbed from 58.6 percent in 2010-11 to 62 percent for 2011-12 and to 72 percent for those entering Parkside in 2012-13. The 2010-2012 numbers were the worst in the state and below the systemwide number. The 2012-13 statewide figure was not available.

Administrators are working on a strategic enrollment plan to help continue that upward trend, she said.

Parkside’s graduation rate for students spending four, five and six years at the school is the worst statewide.

Advising

Possehl said the college is trying to do a better job of advising students who receive financial aid that taking more than 12 credits is in their best interest. Financial aid programs require a recipient to take at least 12 credits per semester, so that’s what many students do. But 12 credits means needing more than four years to graduate. There’s no additional tuition charge for taking up to 17 credits, so the suggestion is to take 15 and get a degree quicker.

Students having trouble academically also could be targeted for help sooner. Parkside about three years ago started a particular approach for faculty to report student progress and problems. The students and their advisers receive those reports for possible follow-up.

Remedial classes

Parkside officials also decided to change the approach to remedial math last year. The campus has the largest group of students needing remedial math and English among the state’s 13 UW campuses.

Possehl said research shows that if students don’t successfully complete remedial classes, chances are they’ll drop out. She said the classes were causing students to leave rather than improve.

She said administrators now are researching what, if anything, to do with the remedial English courses.

Daphne Pham, Parkside’s University Committee chair and a biological sciences associate professor, said an arrangement has been tested the past few years allowing faculty to ask for students who did well in a course previously to tutor new students who need help in the course now.

“It makes a difference,” she said.

Policies

Possehl said the school scrutinized its policies for any that hurt rather than helped student success. There were some. One, for example, put far more students on academic suspension than should have been. The policy said students who received low grades for a few semesters would be suspended even though they might have an overall grade point average that was acceptable.

The policy was changed about a year and a half ago to consider the long-term, or cumulative, GPA, and that kept a few hundred students per year in school, she said.

Coordination

Possehl said agreements with schools such as Gateway Technical College help improve the rates. The agreements allow students to take a variety of courses for a two-year degree then transfer to the four-year university for a degree.

Possehl said Parkside also is discussing with K-12 districts ways to better prepare students for college. She said restarting the teacher education program at Parkside should help raise the rates, too.

At one point, Parkside received a Title 3 grant to work on retention issues for high-risk students, she said. The grant paid for a part-time employee who collected retention data that helped admissions personnel make decisions on who is to be admitted, who is at risk and who might need help, she said.

Tighter admission terms

Parkside has begun to be “a little” more selective in who’s accepted, Possehl said. The school wants better prepared students, academically, based on ACT scores, class rank, grade point average and types of high school classes taken, she said.

That, and a declining population of high school age young people, are why the campus’ freshman class dwindled the past few years. Poesshl said the trend turned around this past fall, with freshman enrollment at 766, up 54 from fall 2012, apparently because of a variety of recruitment efforts.

Possehl also noted Parkside’s ACT composite score of incoming freshmen has improved to 21.3 in 2012 from the 20.1 recorded in 2008.

Good trend

Greg Mayer, Faculty Senate chair and a biological sciences associate professor, liked that Parkside is a bit more restrictive in admissions requirements. He said the couple point jump in the ACT composite is considered good and that forcing freshmen to have higher composite scores should yield a higher graduation rate.

Pham viewed the university’s efforts as helpful.

“I think there’s all the help available to you if you truly want to finish college at Parkside,” she said.

Poesshl said improving rates takes time, but the changes — many of which were put in place after Deborah Ford became Parkside chancellor four years ago — should continue to make a difference.

“That’s why we’ve been doing all this over the last few years, and it continues to remain a focus,” she said. “We’re not done, however. We’re committed to continuing this work to make sure more students will be successful.”

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