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Texas A & M University–Corpus Christi Center for Academic Student Achievement

Learn how this university helps its at-risk students complete their first term in good academic standing using predictive models

Background: Types of students served
The Corpus Christi campus of Texas A & M University, with over 10,000 students, serves the needs of the South Texas population and is designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). A large number of these students are identified as low-income and first generation.

Three admissions categories are used at the university. Full admits meet all admissions criteria and comprise 40 percent of the entering class. Preferred System Admits (PSA) make up 10 percent of the entering class; these are students who applied to the flagship campus at College Station, but are required to attend a satellite campus first. The remaining half of all first-time admitted students are classified as conditional or alternative admits; these students do not meet all of the minimum admissions criteria as the full admits, such as high school GPA, high school rank, and standardized test scores (ACT or SAT).

Student success initiatives
In light of the complexity of the freshman class and Texas A & M University–Corpus Christi’s commitment to providing optimal support to freshman students, the Corpus Christi campus adopted the use of a Student Retention Predictor™ (SRP) predictive model to identify students whose risk indicators suggested the need for immediate interventions. The variables that were most influential on the Corpus Christi campus were: high school GPA, number of days as applicant (identifying late applicants), student major, SAT combined scores, and the expected family monetary contribution. After scoring the incoming cohort with the model, the scores were divided into five groups (quintiles) with each score band covering 20 percent of the scores. The resulting class distribution resembled a bell curve with 19.1 percent of scores below average, 55.6 percent of student scores being close to the average, and 23.7 percent of scores above average. (A very small number of students, fewer than 2 percent, were in either the lowest quintile or the highest quintile and are not discussed here.) These classifications helped the campus identify which students needed assistance.

The next step was to establish the receptivity of these students to university services. To assess this, students were asked to take the College Student Inventory™ (CSI), a companion instrument to the Student Retention Predictor. Of the 1,965 new freshmen, 1,294 finished the survey, for a completion rate of 65.9 percent. Part of the CSI output is a series of recommendations based on each survey-taker’s responses. After analyzing the range of recommendations and discovering that 73 percent of students were identified for either a mentoring or tutoring referral on their CSI, a decision was made to focus on these recommendations.

The predictive model’s values and the CSI recommendations together became the basis for fall 2014 intervention strategies. Students with mentoring and tutoring referral recommendations were referred to the Center for Academic Student Achievement (affectionately known as CASA—which is Spanish for “home”). There, the Campus Retention Specialists and Islander Success Advocates, a group of full-time and part-time student advocates, worked closely with incoming students to encourage them to use mentoring and tutoring services, supplemental instruction, and the writing center.

Outcomes
At the end of the term, results for the most at-risk students in the below-average model score range showed that as the number of visits to CASA increased from zero, to one to two visits, to three to four visits, and finally more than five visits, the proportion of students who ended the term in good standing increased from 72.5 percent for students with zero visits to 94.7 percent for students with five or more visits. (Good standing means that the student achieved a GPA of 2.0 or more for the term.) These results were very encouraging for the campus because they showed that the students were not only likely to need assistance; these students in fact became successful by using the services, and success increased as the number of visits for tutoring increased.

Impact on institutional planning and organization
The data enabled the university and Ruffalo Noel Levitz to work together in creating a comprehensive retention plan with six main strategies:

Strategy One: Underprepared and Late Admits. The first strategy addressed the late and conditional admits identified using the “number of days as an applicant” variable from the SRP model. The university is taking steps to identify these students even earlier in order to provide early assistance.

Strategy Two: Structural Responsibility for Retention. This strategy designated the structural responsibility and leadership for retention efforts. It was determined that CASA would take the lead since it was already providing academic support services. This follows a recommended best practice that effectiveness in retention is directly related to clearly assigned leadership and responsibility for retention efforts.

Strategy Three: Academic Advising. The retention plan recommended a more comprehensive advising model, allowing the five colleges on campus to work together closely to address the needs of first-year, first-time-in-college students. It was also concluded that the university’s Islander Transition Center work exclusively with first-year students and add additional personnel to accommodate the growing number of freshman students.

Strategy Four: Expanded use of the Ruffalo Noel Levitz early-alert system, the Retention Management System Plus™. This strategy played a significant role because it allowed CASA to administer the CSI and its follow-up post-test, the Mid-Year Student Assessment™ (MYSA), to all first-year students during their seminar classes.

Strategy Five: Survival Programming. This effort facilitated the social interactions that helped so many freshman students make the necessary adjustments or transitions when away from home for the first time. As a result, the disabilities office, career offices, counseling offices, and student engagement and success office, which comprise student affairs on campus, are all playing successful roles.

Strategy Six: Supplemental Instruction (SI). This strategy enhanced the SI support service which was already in place. Ruffalo Noel Levitz was able to assist the center in documenting the campus impact of SI to senior administrators, and as a result the center was able to increase the number of SI sessions offered in the College of Liberal Arts.

The results of these strategies:

  1. The university restructured its admissions committee to ensure that each college was represented and that the committee also included the executive director of advising and the assistant vice president of student success. The admission committee is also revisiting student withdrawal and drop dates to accommodate all students, but especially first-time-in-college students.
  2. The Retention Council evolved from an informal meeting group into a task force, and then expanded to have campuswide representation. The Planning and Institutional Research, Student Engagement, and Support Division, including the Career Services Office, contributed and are part of the effort to increase student retention.
  3. The university adopted Starfish as an early-alert warning tool to expand campus communication with students, especially those who have been identified as being at-risk, or highly at-risk.

Case study published with the permission of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

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