Montana State University

Pilot program to help students stay in college shows great promise

May 22, 2012 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Montana State University will continue a program aimed at helping students stay in college and earn degrees after a promising first-year pilot, university officials announced on Tuesday.

During the past academic year, MSU's Office of Student Success offered tutoring, advising, study-skills training, and incentive programs to help students stay in college. In just tutoring, more than 560 students utilized 6,500 hours of assistance.

"Clearly, this program fulfills an important need," said MSU President Waded Cruzado. "Continuing it is the right thing to do for our students. We want to help them succeed."

Cruzado approved funding the program at $280,000 per year for the next two fiscal years. The funding comes from non-recurring university reserves.

The continued funding for the Office of Student Success follows on the heels of three other initiatives Cruzado launched in late April to assist students: financial literacy training for students and their parents, a renewed effort to help students graduate more quickly, and further expansions of tutoring and advising services.

"Pursuing a college degree is an enormous commitment of time and money and we want to make sure students get the most out of MSU," Cruzado said. "Education is a cornerstone to personal and national prosperity."

All of the efforts are part of MSU's strategic plan to increase the number of students who graduate in six years. Currently, of full-time freshmen who enter college for the first time, 50.7 percent graduate in six years, up from 47.1 percent the year prior. The university wants to increase that to 62 percent, which would put MSU in the top 25 percent of western land-grant universities for graduation rates. To reach that goal means applying the university's efforts to the freshman class of 2012.

MSU will also be doing research on why students stay in school and why they drop out.

"We want to take an in-depth look at as many things as possible that might influence a student's choice to stay in school from the friendships they make on campus, to the relationships they have with faculty, to how many hours a week they might have to work, to differences in gender, age and income, to how they performed in high school. It's a very complicated picture," said Carina Beck who oversees the Office of Student Success, which assists students with issues affecting their ability to earn a degree.

Many students who leave the university before graduating struggle with a lack of basic academic skills such as note taking, library research and good study habits.

The Office of Student Success addresses those problems with programs such as: the First and Second Year Initiatives, which focus on the specific needs of freshmen and sophomores; a learning strategies class and workshops; free tutoring; ChampChange, a program rewarding students for attending activities and using tutoring services; and MSU 101, an "academic boot camp" for students with a low grade point average.

"We even have a program, Return to Learn, to invite and support students to return to MSU," Beck said.

To date, student use of these programs has been strong. For the 2011-2012 academic year, the Office of Student Success:

  • Conducted more than 700 individual appointments with students at risk of leaving school.
  • Provided 6,500 hours of free tutoring for 564 students.
  • Hired 163 tutors to provide tutoring in 198 courses.
  • Hosted 224 students for MSU 101 workshops.
  • Recorded more than 3,500 students participating in ChampChange.

    "Our programs are based upon research assessing the needs of MSU students and best practices from other universities that have improved the number of students who stay in college by meeting the needs of their students," Beck said. "We want to help students in every way we can."

    Contact: Carina Beck, Office of Student Success, 406-994-7627, cbeck@montana.edu