Archive for Friday, December 9, 2011

Academic nudge

A new system to flag struggling students at Kansas University may be just the reminder some students need.

December 9, 2011


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.


grimpeur 6 years, 5 months ago

"A new system to flag struggling students at Kansas University"

I say, this is just what these layabout party-school attendees need: a good old-fashioned public lashing! Tie them to the Jayhawk in front of Strong, and take the cat-o'-....

Wait, what?



Never mind, then.

Mark Pickerel 6 years, 5 months ago

This could be a nice boost to retention, if used properly and reinforced with accurate information.

KU's retention rate has increased recently partly due to emphasis on early and continuous enrollment in Math and English to ensure that students don't wait until the last minute to take that Math course, and then miss their graduation by failing it.

If these two items can be used together to 1) make sure the student is enrolling in general education courses in a timely manner and 2) monitor the student's progress in said courses, then that combination can be a big boost to retention.

A third item, which involves clearer communication of what the degree requirements actually are, is also in the works for next year. It would allow for better descriptions of degree requirements and give students a more intuitive way to check their degree progress than what is currently available (the ARTS form).

scarletbhound 6 years, 5 months ago

While this new plan may be fine and good if it truly involves only a "nudge" to capable but distracted students, my concern is that KU is devoting scarce resources to people who have no business attending the quality university that KU asserts it is. Ultimately, this means further dumbing down of the undergraduate degree, a process that already is well along at KU. I understand that "retention" is the latest buzz word in higher education. The problem is that large numbers of high school graduates are simply unprepared for college-level work. Indeed only around 25 percent of students taking the 2011 ACT were judged to have attained the test's benchmarks for college readiness. In its zeal to maintain and grow enrollment -- i.e. faculty and staff jobs, consumers for downtown Lawrence businesses etc. -- KU could eventually become a third-rate university. Kansas has one of the nation's finest community college systems. I suggest that any "nudging" should be in that direction for many underperforming KU students.

Miles Nease 6 years, 5 months ago

Raising admission standards would improve KU and not cost anything.

P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 5 months ago

Going to a 4-year college or university right after high school is not for everyone. Often, spending some time out in the world getting life experience and some maturing (since our brains are not fully developed until our early 20s) is a better path to follow.

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