College Planning & Management

FEB 2013

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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Recruit & Retain MANSFIELD UNIV ERSI T Y The Road to Student Success Helping freshmen transition through tailored support services. BY RU TH HER MANSEN, ANDEE DUNHAM , AND CHR IS BR IDGE S T HE FIRST FEW WEEKS AT COLLEGE ARE always the hardest for freshmen. Miles from home, making new friends, and suddenly being responsible for their own schedules — academic and social. Ultimately, making the transition often means the difference between staying for the next four years and getting their degree, or dropping out. Mansfield University, in Mansfield, PA, is combining technology and people power to help flag students who are having problems. Once identified, we can reach out to help them make the transition as seamless as possible. Using Map Works, a survey software program, Mansfield University freshmen are asked to complete a 100-question survey after their fi rst four weeks on campus. In our inaugural application of this survey, we were thrilled to discover that more than 90 percent of the students took the time to fi nish the survey. With such a phenomenal response rate, we were able to illustrate a detailed picture of how our freshmen class navigated this still somewhat uncharted territory. With 100 questions covering a wide variety of topics, our University staff is able to respond directly to specific areas where the student needs support, rather than a coverall attempt to help every student the same way. We tailor our response to each student and provide individualized support. Although special circumstances certainly exist, we've largely seen students leave early based on three reasons, the first being personal. For many 17- or 18-year-olds, it's the first time they've spent a long period of time away from their family, and adjusting to a new environment can be challenging. Depending on who their roommate is, it can be very difficult if personalities clash. The second reason is financial considerations. Many Mansfield University students are first-generation college students, many of whom have parents making tremendous sacrifices to provide them with an opportunity for an education that they were never granted themselves. While a very unselfish act in itself, this situation can pile a heavy burden on top of an already chaotic situation, as students feel pressured to succeed. Third, of course are academic reasons. Without the structure of home and high school, students are left to themselves to make responsible choices and complete their course workload. They must learn quickly how to manage their time appropriately and hone their study skills to their own personalities. Stumbling out of the gates has 12 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / FEBRAURY 2013 consequences that go well beyond the first semester. Many students feel if they fail the first time, that they don't have what it takes to earn a college degree, when that simply is not the case. When a student is found to be struggling, we contact him or her to schedule a conversation to talk specifically about the challenges he or she faces. We can discuss ways to get involved in campus and also how to communicate with residence life staff in the dorms to resolve roommate issues. Other challenges in adjusting to the campus can often be alleviated through greater education. We frequently speak with students specifically about concerns regarding campus police, parking, childcare, or registering for classes. In addition to having two staff members dedicated to this transition period, we have support teams and professors around campus who have committed to making this a part of their duties. The result is a large, multifaceted organization that can help freshmen with nearly any problems they might encounter. If students make the transition to college and persist, the payoff is big. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, persons with a high school diploma average an annual salary of $30,600, while those with a bachelor's degree nearly doubles to $56,600. The benefits of staying in school could mean more than $1 million over the course of a professional career. Our current graduates are certainly pleased with their decision to continue on after their first four weeks as freshmen. According to the spring 2012 results of our graduating student survey, 94.3 percent of students were either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall education and 93.3 percent felt the same way about their education in their major. More than 88 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall Mansfield University experience and more than 80 percent said they felt a sense of belonging here. Mansfield University has always been about being small and personal. Now with the technology and staff resources, we're in an excellent position to help our students succeed both personally and academically. CPM Ruth Hermansen is the associate director for student life/student retention, Andee Dunham is the associate director for student life and transition, and Chris Bridges is Mansfield University's dean of students. WWW.PLANNING 4EDUCATION.COM

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