USM program increases retention, enrollment

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“The Dome” or the Aubrey K. Lucas Administration Building at Southern Miss. Susan Broadbridge / Printz

This year, faculty members at The University of Southern Mississippi worked to raise student retention rates, with about 74 percent of first- year students re-enrolling.

The New Student and Retention Program (NSRP), previously known as First Year Initiative, provides a range of support to the campus community through retention efforts and student transition. USM created the program to track incoming freshmen and transfer students by reaching out to them via e-mail.

According to Alesha Knox, coordinator for the Jump Scholars program, students mainly drop out of college due to finances and loneliness.

“Tuition goes up every year across the board, across the United States,” Knox said. “Students get the most financial aid their first year, and then after that they don’t get as much.

Also, there’s a lot of research that says students who are academically doing fine still leave because they don’t find their fit. They may feel they need to go back home for some reason.”

Instructor and Internship Coordinator for the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism Maggie Williams said many students who enroll full-time also work full-time.

“One of the things [faculty members have] talked about over and over again is that 80 percent plus of our students have full-time jobs,” Williams said. “Really, going to school is almost a full-time job if you really dedicate yourself to it. I think some students spread themselves too thin, but I know people have to make money to support themselves.”

Williams hopes to motivate students during advisement by providing a friendly face and sound advice.

“The main thing is [that] you want your students, no matter who they are, to get through school in a timely manner, to not have to put out extra money if they don’t have to and to meet their goals,” Williams said. “If you can help figure out what those goals are and what those needs are, then you can be of some help to them.”

NSRP is located on USM’s campus. Its employees have created programs designed to keep students enrolled at USM such as Jump Scholars, Golden Eagle Welcome Week and academic coaching.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Amy Miller initiated the Jump Scholars program almost four years ago with the intention of granting high school students the opportunity to become acquainted with the atmosphere of college. The program begins during the last five weeks of the summer semester, and students take three classes – two GEC courses and one course intended to help students transition from high school to college.

“That helps them get some credits out of the way for various reasons,” Knox said. “We have students who want to study abroad or graduate early, so this program helps give them a head-start on their college career. They also get acclimated to campus before the year starts.”

The program enrolled 11 students the first year, 34 students the second year and 43 students in 2016. Knox said she’s recruiting with the help of USM’s admissions office, and she hopes to have at least 60 students enrolled before the school’s fourth term starts in July.

Knox said she believes USM’s student retention program is becoming more effective each year.

“This past year we went up two percent in our retention rate,” Knox said. “We’re making an impact, and we’re looking for ways to reach not only the students that are our target but all of the students.”

While student retention is only offered to freshmen and transfer students, NSRP employees are currently developing a student retention program for sophomores.

“This year we’re developing sophomore programming to make sure that we’re not only looking at first-year students and making sure they come back but also second- year students and making sure they come back as well,” Knox said. “We’re slowly working on having an every- year retention program.”