News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 18, 2011

ISU faces problems retaining certain groups of students

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Conditionally admitted and African American students “are leaving ISU at alarming rates,” according to a report on first-year retention presented to Indiana State University trustees Friday.

“The picture is not one that I like having to share with you,” Provost Jack Maynard told trustees during a seminar on student retention.

A chart in a PowerPoint presentation shows the first-year retention rates for those groups is just over 40 percent. In other words, only 40 percent returned for their sophomore year. 

But overall first-year retention for all first-time, full-time students is just 58 percent this fall, and that number has university officials and faculty concerned as well.

In recent years, ISU has implemented several measures to improve retention and it is looking at others to help reverse the trends.

Other troubling statistics were presented as well:

• In 2006, 10.1 percent of first-time, full-time students were dismissed for academic reasons. In 2010, that number increased to 21.6 percent.

• Among freshmen who were academically dismissed in their first semester, about 40 percent had a 0.00 grade-point average. Only 22 percent of students who earned all Fs were conditionally admitted.

Students who produce no grade-point average, or all Fs, “pretty much have to give up,” Maynard said. The students may be having academic or personal problems.

 In some cases, they may want to drop out, but because of financial aid rules they don’t: If they withdraw, they would have to pay back their financial aid, but by staying, they don’t have to repay certain types of aid.

“The chances of those kids graduating is very, very slim,” Maynard said. “That number was startling to all of us.”

ISU has also found, in studying its data, that students who apply late have high rates of departure.

While ISU loses many students to academic dismissal, it also loses many students for other reasons. According to the presentation, 446 freshmen (41 percent of those who were not retained) were eligible to return for the fall 2011 term but did not; 345 or 77 percent transferred to other institutions, while 101, or 23 percent, “stopped out,” or quit attending college.

Of those who transferred, 40 percent went to Ivy Tech, which may reflect personal financial issues, Maynard said.

Some of the programs ISU has developed to address retention and graduation include:

• LEAP, a summer program for new freshmen

• LAUNCH, a performance incentive program

• and Sycamore Mentors and ISUcceed, a mentoring/tutoring program for African-American students.

ISU is evaluating the success of the programs. Also, a Student Success Council subcommittee is drafting a three-year retention plan, which will be presented to ISU President Dan Bradley in January. 

After the seminar, Maynard discussed ISU’s strategy in responding to the falling freshmen retention rates.

“We have to look at everything from advising, to scheduling, to how we provide instruction to our freshmen students,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose” the four out of 10 students who don’t return for their sophomore year.

The goal is to get retention “back up in the high 60 percent range,” he said. The 58 percent first-year retention rate this fall “is the lowest we’ve ever had.”

Looking to the future, ISU needs to focus on first-semester academic success, according to the presentation. Some of the suggestions are to:

• Focus on teaching methods and meet students “where they are.”

• Provide incentives for departments to assign best teachers to first-year courses.

• Expand the use of learning resources, including tutoring, supplemental instruction and the Writing Center.

ISU needs to work on improving success rates of conditionally admitted and African-American students. For AOP students, that could include learning communities, required tutoring and tightened restrictions for admissions.

ISU has had focus groups with African-American men to hear their thoughts on challenges to academic progress. Those focus groups have indicated:

• lack of adequate academic preparation in high school

• difficulty balancing academic demands with social life

• lack of African-American male faculty/mentors

• lack of purpose or motivation

• social networks at home and on campus that are not supportive of academic goals

The African American Cultural Center staff are using the data to design programs.

In a related retention issue, ISU trustees agreed, during their regular board meeting, to change the freshman academic dismissal policy.

Before, freshmen who earned a cumulative GPA of 1.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or less faced academic dismissal after their first term, although deans have discretion on a case-by-case basis to allow exceptions.

Under the change, freshmen would be dismissed if their GPA was 0.85 or less (deans still have discretion on a case-by case basis not to dismiss).

The reason, Maynard said, is that ISU changed its grading system a few years ago to allow “minus” grades, such as A-, B-, etc. The net effect was to reduce average grades by 0.15 points, which in turn would have led to more students being dismissed for academic reasons.

Changing the academic dismissal policy to a 0.85 GPA or less “is an adjustment that compensates for that,” Maynard said. “It is not a lowering of standards.”

The Faculty Senate debated the issue and agreed to a change in the 1.0 rule.

Faculty Senate Chairman Steve Lamb noted in a report that faculty “are very concerned about the recent behaviors of too many of our new students. Their poor class attendance and their study habits are troubling.”

Strong efforts are being made by both the administration and faculty to understand and change the behavior, Lamb said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.