Easing the college transition
Easing the college transition
Easing the college transition
Danielle DeRouen didn’t expect anyone to be paying attention.
Like other first-year University of Iowa students, she completed the online MAP-Works survey as part of the College Expectations course required of all new UI undergrads. The survey asked how she was adjusting to academic, social, financial, and other demands of college life.
“There was a question about how I planned to pay for college, and I answered that I really didn’t know,” says the psychology major from Fairfield, Iowa. “I don’t come from a lot of money, and both my mom and I were freaking out a little.”
But within a few weeks, DeRouen realized somebody was listening. She received an email from Cindy Seyfer in the Office of Student Financial Aid.
Since then, DeRouen says she and Seyfer have connected more than 20 times—just a few of 32,000-plus MAP-Works-inspired contacts UI staff and faculty have logged since implementing the program last fall.
The survey offers a new way to proactively address student concerns. It’s helping the university keep students enrolled, make education affordable, and enhance overall student success.
More than just a number
Like other UI student-success initiatives, MAP-Works makes a big university feel smaller and helps individual students find the support they need.
“You sometimes hear people tell students ‘At big schools, you’re just a number,’” says Michelle Cohenour, director of retention for University College. “This program tells them, ‘No, you’re much more than that.’”
MAP-Works by the numbers
Stats on survey follow up since fall 2012:
32,408 total contacts with students
11,336 in-person meetings
3,750 students involved in in-person meetings
19,847 emails initiated
4,411 student email recipients
Cohenour co-directs MAP-Works with Ben Walizer, program coordinator for Residence Life in University Housing & Dining. Housing piloted the survey a few years ago, focusing first on students living in Rienow Hall, then on students in all the west campus residence halls.
The campus-wide survey of first-year students launched in 2012 with 150 questions that assess 20 different factors, everything from academics to self-efficacy to homesickness. All can impact whether students who start college at the UI stay to complete their degrees.
Campus partners in housing, advising, financial aid, and other areas can access results to see how individual students report doing. They also get alerts about students who may be at risk.
“Staff sometimes wonder whether the survey is intrusive, but these are questions we should be asking our students,” Walizer says. “Last fall, 99.8 percent of students responded, and most answered every single question.”
About 140 colleges and universities contract with EBI —a company specializing in educational benchmark assessments—to deliver MAP-Works. The UI survey costs about $63,000 a year.
First-year UI students take the survey between their third and fifth weeks on campus. They’re also invited to participate in a spring follow up. The timing of the initial survey gives faculty and staff an opportunity to intervene when they spot signs of trouble.
“The six-week window is the golden time for intervention,” Cohenour says. “It helps us refocus at mid-terms to address problems in class, but also identify social concerns that need to be addressed early.”
Campus support network
About 150 UI offices have signed on as MAP-Works partners. The program helps them reach out to students quickly and coordinate their work, creating a campus support network.
“We had nothing like this before,” says Cindy Seyfer, the senior associate director from financial aid who contacted Danielle DeRouen. “I can bring up a student’s MAP-Works record and see who else has connected.”
Most MAP-Works questions ask students to rate potential concerns on a multipoint scale, or to check topics they’d like to know more about. Last fall, the financial aid office sent an email with basic info on aid, scholarships, loans, and budgeting to about 2,900 students. Seyfer and colleagues worked directly with referrals from other offices and with every student who responded to their initial contact.
The survey’s open-ended questions, on the other hand, often trigger a personalized response right away.
“When a student says, ‘I’m broke all the time,’ we try to determine whether they mean they don’t have money to socialize or whether they can’t pay their bills,” Seyfer says. “Sometimes we find they can access additional aid by completing a form or two, or that an error in their record has affected their eligibility.”
DeRouen says that in her case, Seyfer helped address problems with scholarships, point out unexplored options, and suggest a complete plan to cover her costs.
“We still talk, but I feel very confident now,” DeRouen says. “I tell other students to be up front about their problems—people here will help you ever step of the way.”
Help for high-achievers, too
Tara Lamb takes a subtle approach. She doesn’t cite MAP-Works specifically when following up with her students, but makes sure to ask about areas of potential concern.
Focus on success
In recent years, the UI has launched new programs that bridge academics and student life, and make undergraduate student success part of the university’s culture. A few examples:
Student Success Team
Cross-campus, grassroots group offering ideas, research, and program development
The IOWA Challenge
Five essential expectations for UI undergrads — excel, stretch, engage, choose, serve
Residence-hall-based programs expanded for fall 2013
Five-day welcome and orientation program immediately prior to the fall semester
SWAT (Study, Workshops, and Tutoring)
Review sessions, small groups, and more complementing popular and challenging first-year courses
“I send a casual email checking in at first, asking students to stop by my office or send me an email update” says Lamb, an academic adviser for the College of Nursing. “Students almost always respond and are receptive to meeting in person or sharing via email how they are doing.”
Lamb advises students accepted to nursing’s early decision program, which enrolls promising students directly out of high school. MAP-Works helps her identify issues that high-achieving students might not bring up on their own.
“Top performers have a hard time admitting they’re struggling, and they don’t always know how to ask for help,” Lamb says. “MAP-Works offers a safe environment for students to self-identify if they are experiencing problems—I don’t need to rely completely on what students tell me in advising appointments.”
University-wide, even students who seem to be doing well on all fronts get an email follow up from Tom Rocklin, vice president for student life, and Beth Ingram, associate provost for undergraduate education.
“That was cool,” says Taylor Ellis-Sayegh, a first-year student from Weston, Connecticut. “A university like Iowa can seem so big—that kind of contact makes it more personal.”
Don’t feel like you won’t be heard
The MAP-Works survey asks students who’s helped them adjust college. In December, the program recognized 350 faculty and staff cited by name at a First-Year Champions Reception.
“It feels good to know you’re making a difference and easing a transition that can be so scary for students,” says Lamb, who was among the honorees. “It makes you want to reach out and do even more.”
What seems like simply another survey is actually an opportunity to connect, say students who’ve taken part.
“Take it seriously and really express your concerns,” Ellis-Sayegh says. “People are looking out for you—don’t feel like you won’t be heard.”