Sometimes we all need a little nudge.
That seems to be the philosophy behind a new initiative that seeks to improve student retention at Kansas University.
Like so many initiatives these days, this one starts with a computer software program. However, at least one piece of human contact is built into the system designed to help students who may be struggling in one or more of their classes.
The new software will allow faculty members to flag students they think may need some help. There’s no set criteria for flagging a student, but missed classes or assignments or failing a test might trigger such action. Once a student has been flagged, he or she will receive a call from someone in the KU student advising office who will offer to connect students to on-campus support services, such as tutoring or writing labs, that might help them get back on track.
In many cases, the phone call may be all that’s necessary. There are certain to be some students who are simply annoyed by the call and adopt a “get off my back” stance. However, in many other cases, the advising center calls will be simply reinforcing something the students already know: They need to try a little harder, be a little more responsible. In some cases, they may even be grateful that someone noticed they were struggling and cared enough to try to help them.
Of course, the ideal situation would be for this interaction to occur directly between student and teacher, preferably face to face, not through an email or text message. In larger classes, that sort of contact may not always be practical, and the new flagging system may fill an important gap. Many of the students in large lecture classes are in their first year at KU and are among the most vulnerable students when it comes to retention. KU’s retention rate for first-year students has been around 80 percent, which puts it in the bottom half of Big 12 universities.
The flagging system has been employed at other universities, some of which also use it to congratulate students who are excelling in their class work — which is a nice touch. Officials at one of those schools, East Carolina University, also noted that followups with struggling students who received “nastygrams” found that the message had had a beneficial effect.
Students who enroll at KU and drop out after a year or two are a drain on university resources — not to mention their own personal or family resources. Not every student who enrolls at KU is going to be an academic success, but university officials are right to focus on various new avenues to increase student retention and graduation rates.