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One Student at a Time: The Significance of Student Support Services

With a strong commitment to first generation students, Lamar University launched comprehensive “student STAR Services 2success” improvement strategies in 2016 with the goal of improving retention and graduation rates in this specialty population and overall. The Cardinal Early Alert program provides early detection and intervention for students who are exhibiting signs of academic difficulty or who could benefit from referrals to appropriate campus resources.

“We have developed student support services for all populations through our Retention and Student Success office,” said Katrina Brent, assistant provost, enrollment management. “Every student on the LU campus has a success team that includes an academic advisor, career counselor, college success coach and financial aid advisor to ensure they stay on track toward their ultimate goal of graduation.”  

The campus-wide launch of the Cardinal Early Alert program encourages a culture of support collaborating with faculty, advisors and specialized support staff to address student needs. Faculty are advised to observe students’ behavior and identify “at-risk” students early in the semester. Students are considered at-risk if they exhibit behaviors that could ultimately have a negative impact on their academic progress such as regularly missing class, not participating in class, scoring low grades on assignments and tests indicating a problem with comprehension and course work. 

“We’ve done a lot of personal outreach and follow up with students,” said Craig Escamilla, executive director, Retention and Student Success. “We follow up with students around progress report time and do personal check-ins to see how students are progressing. All of these programs make a big difference and help us meet our mission of serving one student at a time, especially those first-generation students who do not have a family member to help them navigate and make decisions.” 

In the fall of 2019, 1,220 unique students were marked “at risk” allowing support services to proactively reach out to attempt interventions to support these students.

https://www.lamar.edu/news-and-events/news/2020/03/lus-online-educational-experts-offer-free-support-to-teachers-and-districts-moving-to-online-platforms.htmlStudents were offered support services from eight programs based on their unique needs:

- STAR Services LU Outreach and Support: provides academic support through professional academic coaching, peer mentoring and academic enhancement workshops specifically for LU’s highest risk students.

- The Math Shop: drop-in tutoring locale staffed by undergraduate and graduate students who are trained in specific math-course content to help undergraduates become confident mathematics students who are independent, self-regulated learners.

- STAR Services Tutoring: individual and group tutoring services that empower learners to cultivate their skills, strategies and behaviors to become successful lifelong learners.

- The Writing Center: tutoring specific to writing offered at two locations on campus; student consultants work with students across the disciplines at any step in the writing process including understanding the assignment, brainstorming, organizing ideas, revising, proofreading and interpreting the graded paper.

- STAR Services LU Success: peer coaching service for students who need/want to strengthen strategies and techniques from time management to setting goals effectively to study skills.

- Success Coaches: professional coaching program within LU’s five academic colleges to increase proactive student communication and coordination of academic progress reporting, and using predictive analytics software for data-driven outreach.

- Undergraduate Advising Center: professional advisors help students transition from high school to college, enroll in the right classes to graduate on time, utilize campus resources, get involved and connect with faculty and departments during their first two years at LU.

- Career and Professional Development: utilizing a holistic approach, helps students and alumni transition to professional and educational future endeavors.

One Student’s Story
Ally Tywater began using Lamar University’s STAR Services her first day on campus. During orientation she and her parents met LU Success Coach Reba Daniels. Ally told Daniels she was nervous about academics. “My dad attended college and quit and then my brother went to college and struggled and quit,” said Tywater. “I knew I didn’t want to struggle. Reba told me I could meet with her every week.”

Tywater and Daniels set up a meeting every Wednesday. “We just touched base and work through learning strategies for each course,” said Daniels. “I asked her how things were going and what she was worried about.”

Each week, Daniels assessed Tywater’s needs. One week she needed math help, so Daniels directed her to Star ServicesLU’s Math Shop. Another week she needed help writing a paper, so Daniels sent her to LU’s Writing Center.

“I’d never written an essay before my first semester of my freshman year,” said Tywater. “Plus, I think every English teacher has different expectations so I wanted to do it right.” With guidance Tywater made an 80 on her first English essay and a 95 on her second one. “For the first essay for this semester, I got a 92, and I understand. It’s so nice to understand,” said Tywater.

Through academic coaching and advising, Tywater also identified her perfect major. “I started out in general studies, but loved my anatomy classes,” said Tywater. “After talking with Reba, I’m going to declare physical therapy my major.”

With nearly two semesters completed, first-generation student, Tywater has a  GPA of 3.79, and she’s confident that in 2023 she’ll be the first in her family to graduate with a college degree.

Success Achieved
Tywater is just one of a larger number of students benefiting from STAR Services. After fall 2019, for the second consecutive semester of the program, about one in two students (667, 55 percent) who received an at-risk progress report followed up with a support service on campus. Students who followed up with support services, on average, earned higher cumulative (0.26) and term (0.46, the equivalent of a letter grade improvement) GPAs after fall 2019 and earned more credits (2.75, the equivalent of one class) in the term than students who did not attend a support service.

Students who followed up with a support service they were referred to were 21 percent more likely to re-enroll in Spring 2020 (86%) than students who did not attend a support service (65%).

Subsequently, LU’s retention and graduation rates have increased. The one-year freshman retention rate has increased to a ten-year high, and LU’s four-year graduation rate has increased to an all-time high.

“Our support services encourage a culture of support collaborating with faculty, advisors and specialized support staff to address student needs and provides students with the opportunity to increase their chances of success in a course by offering assistance early and consistently throughout the semester,” said Escamilla. “We’re able to connect students with necessary support, where they can develop a success plan, and a byproduct of these programs is that students are learning to self-advocate and communicate with professors, advisors and support services.”