Opening Up the Gates
NDSU takes part in initiative toward entry-level retention
Published: Monday, December 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 9, 2013 14:12
NDSU may have record tuition numbers, but it is also changing the ways those students are retained.
Introducing a new program beginning in 2014, NDSU will take part in an initiative started by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education intended to reshape and create introductory courses for entry-level students. NDSU is one of 11 other institutions chosen.
“Gateways to Completion” was created to take a step back from how students are brought in to their own respective programs in order to increase retention, and therefore, student success.
“We’re looking at courses that, in recent years, have had a high percentage of students who have not succeeded in the course,” said Larry Peterson, NDSU Director of Accreditation, Assessment and Advising. “We’re looking at what we can do as an institution that will make a situation where students are more likely to succeed.”
The most vital aspect to this program is improvement of how freshmen start out in their major. Peterson said not only will new students be able to have a better chance at getting into their major, but they will also have better opportunities to switch majors if they find out a field isn’t right for them.
“When students end up failing or withdrawing from classes for a semester which are key to their major, their chances of graduating can decline pretty rapidly,” Peterson said. “If we can do something, especially for the first-year or first-semester students, like targeting them for the right class and restructuring our classes that will in some ways engage students that will help them learn more, then we’re really helping those students.”
NDSU applied for the program in hopes that introductory classes will be fine-tuned. According to a press release, NDSU will analyze up to five high-risk courses.
Specific classes have already been targeted. Bill Slanger, NDSU Director of Institutional Research and Analysis, said they plan to apply the changes to Biology 220, Chemistry 121 and Psychology 111. Two other courses are still in limbo pending instructor permission.
“Statistically, it’s very important for an institution like North Dakota State University,” Slanger said. “Institutions have a responsibility to provide every resource available to provide and support students’ learning and communicating with the students to help us as an institution.”
This is not the first time the Gardner Institute has made programs for improving classes. However, NDSU will be the first of this blueprint designed to focus on and change 100- and 200-level courses.
“The cohort’s composition shows that this is an issue that spans all of academe,” John Gardner, President of the Gardner Institute, said in a press release. “We applaud NDSU for its willingness to take action on this issue.”
Slanger claims a big reason for this change was the evolution of technology in the classroom. The presence of computers, tablets and cell phones have drastically changed how students attend class, especially among younger generations as they enter college.
“Fundamentally, this has come about because of all of the electronic engagement,” Slanger said.
Math classes, Peterson clarified, won’t be changed off the bat because that department already has a similar plan in place.
NDSU will look for classes that are fundamental in nature and are high in enrollment. They will look closely at how classes can be restructured as the program progresses.
“NDSU clearly recognizes the need to improve student learning and success in gateway courses,” Gardner Institute Executive Vice President Drew Koch said in a press release. “We are quite pleased that its faculty and staff will use the program as part of their ongoing efforts to intentionally and positively address the issue.”
Though this is a brand new program, NDSU will build on conversations and plans that have already been implemented to change the way students are introduced to the college education scene.
Peterson said he thinks it’s important to get a jump on these courses to meet their main goal—improving retention rates.
“I think it’s really crucial,” Peterson said. “Sometimes students find out ‘this isn’t really the right major for me.’ It’s important to find that out.
“It’s also really important to help people, if they can succeed, to help them succeed in those courses.”
Peterson said changing these classes may include some ways in which these courses are taught, such as the class size or how much out-of-class tutoring is implemented. Though it’s unclear how much those variations would improve NDSU, it may be the nudge toward a movement to better retention.
“We can create a situation in which students are more likely to succeed the first time,” Peterson said. “That’s better for everybody.”