Student Success Model uses block scheduling to boost retention


Block scheduling and an early alert system are among the programs created for Fall 2011.

News Editor

As enrollment at SDSU continues to increase, university leaders are working to create what they believe is the best possible college experience for students. That includes looking at the student success model already in place.

The model was revealed over a year ago and is structured around a five-year plan that spans the time prior to a student’s enrollment to post-graduation. All of the programs within the model aim toward increasing retention and graduation rates.

“The plan really runs the gamut,” Marysz Rames, vice president for student affairs, said. “It helps from the recruitment process all the way through graduation, and it gives students the resources they need in order to be successful.”

“[Marysz] and I talked, and there was no comprehensive student success program,” Provost Laurie Nichols said.

The plan was created during the 2009-2010 academic year and was presented in the fall of 2010 to 500 individuals who attended a conference dedicated to the model. John Gardner, who’s work helped bring about a movement in higher education and placed an importance on the first year experience, critiqued the original model and provided feedback to the committee.

“We gave him the model we had worked out and we allowed him to critique the model in front of everyone,” Nichols said. “He highlighted the best points of the model and gave us some recommendations on what we could work on. We then used those comments to change the model.”

The student success model was unveiled in 2010 and consists of numerous projects and activities that are intended to help students throughout their academic career.

“Some of the things in the model are required by all students,” Rames explained. “Those are things that we believe will help connect the students. Other programs are there to help assess possible weaknesses of individual students.”

The last year has been spent working on the models’ first stage, which contains acclimation activities and is focused on the first-year experience.

“This year, we have been creating implementation teams to deal with specific areas of the model,” Nichols said. “The first-year experience is a huge focus, and as soon as it has been launched, we will move into the sophomore experience.”

Some programs within the first-year experience have already been created. The Common Read program and the extended Meet State orientation were both outlined in year one of the plan.

As SDSU continues to grow, however, different committees are working on specific programs.

“One of the biggest programs is dedicated to creating learning communities, in which block schedules will be implemented,” Nichols said. “We are looking to create a smaller environment that will resemble a high-school environment. Students will see the same people in the classes within their block and will develop relationships with those people studying the same material.”

A pilot run of the block scheduling was created last fall for a number of students on campus. The feedback generated was mostly positive and the program was developed throughout the last year.

“All incoming freshman, first-time and first-year students will be in a learning community,” explained Mary Kay Helling, associate vice president for academic affairs. “Those learning communities have held up as one of the most successful components at other universities to engage in learning right away. If students feel connected…they are much more likely to return. ”

As one of the major components of the learning communities program, block scheduling will group two to four classes together in an attempt to bring students closer.

“We realize that there are other ways to create a learning community,” Helling said, “but [the block scheduling] is not that intrusive, and it only contains two to four courses that the students would have to take anyway.”

Helling explained that most students will take classes that will be centered around their intended major. Those who are undecided will take more general classes that will help them learn about all the majors offered through SDSU.

The implementation team responsible for planning much of the program is currently looking at ways to best work with student-athletes, student-musicians and honors students.

The program is expected to begin this fall and will be one semester long. Prior to summer orientation the blocks will have been loaded with students. Students will then be given the opportunity to build their schedule around the block. Block scheduling will then be used in each subsequent fall semester, which provides time for any possible changes to be made to the program.

Helling said that after the Fall 2011 semester the learning outcomes of the program will be looked at in order to find out if the new program is working.

Another program that is being worked on is the Early Alert System, which will be housed in the First Year Advising Center in the College of General Studies.

“The early alert system will go into effect in the fall,” Rames said. “The system will allow faculty to alert advisers when certain students show early signs that they aren’t attending class.”

“The program is a little more invasive than the process we have in place now,” Nichols commented. “It’s really an effort to keep students from falling through the cracks. Right now, by the time deficiencies are given out, it may be too late for students to turn their grades around.”

One other major program that is being worked on is the creation of a first-year seminar. Incoming freshman will be required to enroll in the seminar class in their fall semester.

“A lot of colleges already have a seminar like this one, but right now, only about half of our students have a seminar class like it and half don’t” Nichols said. “It would be used to help freshman understand the resources that are available to them on campus, and it will help them acclimate to college. Students will really learn how to use SDSU to their advantage.”

Each individual committee continues to work on proposals for each program, and the tuition and enrollment increases will likely cause continuous work on the success model.

“We are constantly looking at the model,” Rames said, “and in the next couple of years, we will continue to fine tune it.”

Nichols said that the planning committees will be reactivated later on as the sophomore, junior and senior years of the model are worked on.

By 2012, SDSU hopes to see a retention rate of 80 percent and a graduation rate of 60 percent.