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April 2, 2012

IUS overhauls advising to keep students through graduation

NEW ALBANY — Getting students to enroll hasn’t been a problem, but keeping them from dropping out is something IU Southeast is trying to improve with its overhaul of student advising.

The university’s Academic Success Center has been replaced with the Advising Center for Exploratory Students, which specifically targets students who just don’t know what major to choose.

Gil Atnip, vice chancellor for academic affairs, said students with less direction are less likely to see their education through graduation. He said the new advising model should help with that on campus.

“We have been looking for things that we could do to try to provide students more support as they pursue their education,” Atnip said. “Hopefully, by getting those students off to a good start and getting them committed to something, it’ll increase the likelihood that they’ll finish their program.”

Part of the reorganization included hiring five more full-time advisers for ACES, along with replacing four who left in the process of the change. New staff members trained last week while students were on spring break.

Atnip said increasing student persistence — which is measured by the percentage of students who enroll in the fall semester then return the following fall — is a directive universities all over the state are getting from the Indiana Higher Education Commission.

He said IU Southeast’s persistence rate has fluctuated in the last 15 years, ranging anywhere from 60 percent to 70 percent. He said about 65 percent is the national average.

Heading up ACES is Rebecca Turner, the new director. She said ACES will work with students from the time they go through orientation until they find a major they’re interested in.

During orientation, she said students will take career interest inventory, a computer-administered test that helps students find career possibilities they might want to pursue. From there, students will pick a few of the possibilities and explore different degree programs with advisers to help put them on a path to get to that job.

“I think the university is really putting the students’ best interests at heart, and that means a lot to me,” Turner said.

Students would also be put in touch with faculty, students and professionals when possible in those programs.

Students who have a selected major will still receive academic advising through the schools they enroll in, such as business or social sciences. Turner said the advice students get from those advisers would be more in-depth, whereas advisers in ACES will have to know a little about every degree program on campus.

Sarah Gierke is an academic adviser for the school of nursing. She said from working with the way the program was organized before, she’s excited to see how students benefit from the overhaul.

“The sooner we can get them connected [to people in a degree program], the more likely they are to stay here and graduate,” Gierke said.

But Turner said there are a couple of challenges. Some students may switch their majors. She said that wouldn’t be a big deal if it was a different degree path within the same school, but students switching from something like business to fine arts would need more guidance from ACES.

Also, the university has about 40 percent of its student body made up of nontraditional students — students who are older than the traditional college age. Atnip said it’s been his experience that students who come back to school in a tough economy to learn a new trade are often more focused than students fresh out of high school.

Turner said she thinks the new advising model will benefit students and the university in getting more degrees in the hands of graduates.

“The changes that are being implemented were explained to me from my interview and from that, I wanted to be a part of the changes,” Turner said. “I’m very excited that we’re focusing so much on the students who really need the attention.”

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