Undergraduate Student Success Center Revamps Retention Plan

Since Florida A&M University has invested $7.2 million in new performance funding, the Undergraduate Student Success Center has been developing many new initiatives to raise graduation and retention rates.

Their new innovative ideas are being constructed around building self-awareness and unity amongst the classes.  

The Office of Student Retention, renamed the Undergraduate Student Success Center, has revamped their student retention plan in efforts to increase graduation rates.  

Dr. Brenda Spencer, Director for Academic Integration and Student Transitional Services, along with Lawrence Brown, coordinator of the First-Year Experience, have worked closely together to create a framework to ensure the success among the student body.

Nationally, the retention rate is calculated through sophomore students.  The USS Center already has a full program in place for freshman students with the “first-year experience program,” but now they will do more targeted programming for second students.  

“We offer various initiatives for our first-year students, but we want to make sure that our sophomore students are returning and we deal with issues that they may experience and just have special focus on them,” said Spencer.  

The sophomore experience will have a more career development aspect of the student transition process.  This will build awareness, for students, of what it takes to be more successful in their major.  They plan to have special focus on leadership development, studying abroad, graduate study opportunities, research opportunities and really helping them to focus in terms of their career goals.

“Its quite normal for students to change their major within the first two years,” Brown said.  “While students are still trying to figure out what they want to do, we hope the second year program will help students create more self-awareness and, help them understand who they are.”

Among other ideas for the sophomores will include forums where students can interact with companies, and “alternative spring breaks,” in which students travel to major cities for career shadowing opportunities.

Spencer has introduced the “living and learning communities,” where students in the same major will live in the same dorms.  This concept will promote students studying together, getting special advisement and tutorial sessions.  Since the students will have similar classes, it will be easier for them to help each other succeed.  

“We’ll be bringing students together in a smaller environment providing special focus on them, and having various activities where faculty can come in and make presentations within the resident halls,” Spencer said.  

Spencer foresaw this concept having a big impact on the advancement of the students.

“This will build a greater sense of togetherness and belonging to the students, and in turn, help to increase the retention rate,” Spencer said.  “We really feel this will help in terms of progression and ultimately graduation from the university.”

Brown agrees with Spencer in keeping students together.

“This will be an added factor to the students’ motivation,” Brown said.  “If you’re steadily with someone you’ve developed a relationship with, you will continue to push each other. Seeing each other grow while keeping each other motivated, will encourage wanting to graduate together.”

According to the Associated Press, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature have demonstrated strong support for the Board of Governors’ performance funding model, which rewards universities based on their excellence or improvement on 10 metrics–including graduation and retention rates.

The model provides a financial incentive for universities to prioritize students and ensure they have access to the help they need, can finish their studies within a reasonable period of time and are prepared for successful careers after graduation.

“The Board of Governors has put all of the right incentives and resources in place for universities to ensure the success of their students,” State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser III said. “By making strategic investments, our universities can raise the bar for themselves and ensure that our students have rewarding opportunities in this state.”