Putting the Pieces Together
In recent years, a cottage industry has sprung up at UTSA around the goal of improving student success rates. Practically every office and organizational function is examining itself in search of what it can do to help more students get across the graduation stage in a timelier manner. A broad structure has been put in place to bring a sense of order and deliberateness to the plan. We refer both to the plan itself -- and the structure -- generically as GRIP (Graduation Rate Improvement Plan). My offices, Admissions, Orientation and Family Programs, and Recruitment Information Systems are each on the front end of this process. We are working on improving graduation rates starting two years before the students even get here. I want to talk a bit about what our areas do to support improved student success rates.
An initiative that has garnered considerable attention is the raising of admissions standards at UTSA. Based on an examination of student success rates, new freshman and transfer admissions criteria were approved at the campus and UT System levels for fall 2013. This marks the third increase in standards in five years and it is interesting to note, despite concerns to the contrary, that UTSA has been able to maintain and even expand its service to traditionally underserved populations over this time period. The change for fall 2013 is expected to be more impactful and will result in a smaller class of incoming students. While this may cause some concern about revenue streams while the community and region respond to UTSA’s quest for Tier One status, the thing to do now is bolster plans across campus to improve student retention and graduation rates . . . and that is where GRIP comes into play.
The Orientation and Family Programs (OFP) office plays an important role in improving student success rates. Over the past five years, the new student orientation program-Roadrunner Roundup has been increasingly infused with academic content based on the desired learning outcomes for program participants. Roadrunner Roundup also works to help new students navigate the campus, its services, and its offerings to include a multitude of opportunities for academic and social engagement in the campus experience. Further, the program serves UTSA in its need to pre-test new freshmen in support of the Quantitative Literacy Program. Finally, the orientation program has helped with legislative mandates such as ensuring the new class of students is vaccinated against meningitis. In the interest of constant improvement and alignment with new initiatives, Orientation is currently engaging in a program review that will ensure the office’s continued contribution to a rapidly changing university.
But that is not all! Through extended orientation experiences such as Roadrunner Camp, Roadrunner Adventure Trips and ROWDYS Camp, OFP is able to further assist students in their successful transition to college by generating enthusiasm and excitement while encouraging student involvement and engagement in campus activities. Finally, the UTSA Family Association and Parent Council are quickly becoming an integral part of the university community. The efforts of these groups aim to provide communication between the University and family members of our students in order to increase student success, facilitate positive university relations, and promote a suitable role for family members within the university community.
A relatively new addition to the picture is the establishment of the Recruitment Information Systems (RIS) office. Formerly a part of the Admissions Office, RIS is a response to the changing environment at UTSA. Implementation of technological solutions and meeting high-level programming needs has become crucial in the effective implementation of admission and orientation programming. Further, as UTSA has moved quickly down the path of managing its enrollments, we find that collaborations across all the divisions of UTSA are required to support a host of initiatives. Some of these include the implementation of University College, Individual Holistic Admission Review, International Programs, myUTSA ID, taking over from OIT, the online student registration for orientation that serves the distinct needs of each student and each orientation program partner across the institution. Next up for RIS, assuming the funding can be found, is an enterprise solution for student prospecting and recruitment to replace the current outdated system. This project will reach across the undergraduate and graduate academic programs and include P-20, Athletics, and nearly every student-focused initiative on campus. Reaching Tier One status will require everyone to play a role in bringing to campus the kinds of students who will graduate in a timely manner, and providing a great experience for them while they are here.