Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Academic Advising helps students navigate the university

Academic Advising helps students navigate the university

UTSA showed the largest improvement across the state in six-year graduation rates, going from under 35 percent in 2002 to 56 percent in 2017, an increase of nearly 22 percentage points, according to data released this summer by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

(Sept. 12, 2018) -- UTSA students getting settled into the fall semester are now juggling school, work and family responsibilities. Over the course of the semester, some of those students, particularly first-time freshmen, will find the demands on their time overwhelming. That’s where UTSA Academic Advising can help.

“It’s easy to think you are completely alone, and the only one going through a difficult time while trying to balance school with life,” said Kailyn Antoine, a UTSA senior from Phoenix. Antoine is one of many college students who have experienced the advantages of working with academic advisors in order to achieve their goal of college graduation.

When Antoine began school, she was quickly faced with family issues, which took her mind off her studies and resulted in dismissal for academic reasons. But, after a year, she returned to UTSA and began to visit Academic Advising once a month.

“I really thought I was the only one with these difficulties, and the academic advisor quickly assured me I was not. In fact, she also faced difficulties when she went through her college experience,” Antoine said. “She kept telling me once you begin something, you need to finish it. Her motivation combined with my determination helped me achieve what I really wanted.”

What Antoine wanted was a degree in criminal justice which, hopefully, will be followed with a law degree. She graduated from UTSA this summer, will participate in December Commencement and is thankful for the assistance and encouragement the academic advisors provided.

“The academic advisor-student relationship is a partnership; we are committed to engage, teach and encourage our Roadrunners, thus developing a sense of belonging to the UTSA community,” said Angelica M. Barrera, UTSA interim associate vice president of Student Advising and Support. “Often times, students believe they are the only ones struggling, like Ms. Antoine, but after meeting with their academic advisor, they often walk away understanding that there are other options and campus resources that can assist them.”

By implementing a series of targeted student success strategies over the last 10 years, UTSA has proactively improved its student persistence rates. Between 2008 and 2017, UTSA’s first-year retention rate increased by 15 percent, while its four and six-year graduation rates have improved 15 percent and 9 percent, respectively, according to data from the UTSA Office of Institutional Research.

Notably, UTSA took a new approach to Academic Advising in 2014, moving from an open advising model to a centralized advising model. As a result, every UTSA undergraduate student is now assigned an academic advisor. This approach has provided students with a more consistent advising experience during their academic journeys. It has also enabled students and their academic advisors to establish rapport and trust, enhancing the student experience.

In Fall 2016, UTSA Academic Advising piloted a campaign focused on the freshman cohort, where academic advisors implemented more proactive and intentional interventions. This campaign was a targeted outreach effort that required actionable responses from UTSA students.

During the freshman cohort pilot, 63 percent of the university’s undergraduate population was seen by their academic advisor on average during FY 2016-2017 and FY 2017-2018. The freshman cohort campaign resulted in 83 percent of the students being on track for degree completion. Over one-third of those who were off-track were in contact with their academic advisor.

To support continuing students who were struggling academically, Academic Advising implemented a second strategy: the Academic Probation and Academic Warning campaign. In FY 2016-2017 and FY 2017-2018, this pilot resulted in 48-49 percent of this student population, on average, meeting with their assigned academic advisor. This was greater than expected, as this student population is typically a very difficult population to get to come in for an academic advising appointment or seek assistance.

These campaigns will continue again in the 2018-2019 academic year as part of the advisors’ caseload management.

UTSA Academic Advising will also continue to proactively identify students who need assistance by reviewing feedback from faculty via progress reports for particular courses. These courses have been identified as critical for success and progress in a particular major based on UTSA data.

In this program, which began in Fall 2016, faculty members who are teaching success marker courses flag their ‘at risk’ students in the first portion of the semester to midterms. When students are identified as at risk, their assigned academic advisor contacts them and schedules an appointment to engage with them and discuss the factors that may be impeding their performance. Together, through these open and honest conversations they strategize, discuss options and develop a plan.

When this pilot program was completed in Spring 2017, 20-25 percent of students enrolled in success marker courses were identified as at-risk. In Spring 2018, 12 percent of students were flagged. Among those groups, students who met with their academic advisor after being flagged by faculty were more likely to earn a grade of “C-” or better than those who did not meet with their advisor, and the earlier the faculty identified the student as “at risk,” the better the students performed.

As part of its commitment to improve student success, UTSA has implemented and adopted technology to provide its academic advisors better tools to enable them to do more intentional and proactive advising and manage their caseloads and programs.

“Technology helps us strategize our planned efforts to ensure that every student is reviewed and on-track to graduate. Those who are off track and  need a plan are identified and invited to meet with their assigned academic advisor to develop a plan,” said Barbara Smith, executive director of Academic Advising.

UTSA showed the largest improvement across the state in six-year graduation rates, going from under 35 percent in 2002 to 56 percent in 2017, an increase of nearly 22 percentage points, according to data released this summer by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Christi Fish

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