Low grades, less involvement leaves students at risk

Agreen and Agreen

Students who are at risk are of great concern to the University.

“At risk” is the University’s term for those students who are more likely to not return to school. There are many different factors that could cause a student to become at risk.

Barb Henry, assistant vice president for advising and academic success, said there are social, personal and academic factors.

She said students can be at risk if they have a low GPA or ACT score, if the University is a long distance from their home, if a family member is ill or if they do not join any campus organizations.

The University’s institutional research department has students complete a new student transition questionnaire every year to look at these factors.

“This typically identifies 300 to 500 new students who are at risk of not returning to college,” said Bill Knight, assistant vice president for planning and accountability and professional associate in the institutional research department.

The department has been doing these questionnaires since 1998 and, based on responses and GPA, they can develop an at risk scale. Students at the bottom third of the scale are considered at risk.

The University tries to help students who are at risk, particularly those who do not have good academic standing, based on their GPA.

Linda Swaisgood, director of undergraduate services in the College of Technology, said the college has an intensive intervention system for students who are on academic warning, on probation or have been reinstated.

“Students sign a success contract and meet with an academic adviser once a month until they get back onto good academic standing,” Swaisgood said.

Swaisgood said of the approximately 220 new students who entered the college in the fall, 26 are on academic probation and 20 are on academic warning.

This semester is the first that the college is also requiring at risk students to attend at least one of the University’s First Year Success Series workshops.

Assistant Dean of Students Andrew Alt said the University started the series five years ago to provide transition assistance to first-year students. The workshops help students learn about study skills, leadership and time management and also offers tutoring.

“We had about half of our first year class attend at least one this year,” Alt said. “It was about 1,000 students during the fall semester,”

Alt said students taking UNIV 1000 are required to attend at least one workshop, and most of the colleges are using the workshops in one way or another for their at risk students.

Swaisgood said these workshops and meetings with advisers are only as successful as students want them to be.

“We don’t have any way of forcing them,” she said. “Students who take it seriously end up doing well. We ask them to meet us halfway.”

Swaisgood also said high school GPAs and ACT scores should not be the only factors used to predict how well students will do once they get to college.

“There’s no characteristics that you can look at and say ‘that student is going to do great’ or ‘that student isn’t,'” she said. “It’s unfair of us as academic advisers to pass that kind of judgment.”

Swaisgood said advisers try to help students as much as they can and try new things.

“I’ve been at the University for 32 years, and there have been various programs for students and none of them have worked any better than the others,” she said. “That’s not to say [that] we give up.”