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Three Summer Strategies to do More with Limited Campus Resources: Part II

Welcome to the second installment of my three-part series on how to develop and implement a summer strategy to help students stay on a path to graduate while increasing your institution’s retention numbers. In my first post, I discussed how incorporating course-sharing into a summer plan can address many students’ need for more flexible schedules and help even your high-performing students graduate on time and with less debt.

In this post, I’ll address a different, but no less important issue: How your summer strategy can help students who have struggled in one or more courses regain good academic standing. Let’s face it, this is a problem that affects almost every college and university.

No one—not the institution and certainly not the student—benefits when a student drops out as a result of what may be a temporary academic setback. But many of our systems are not designed to provide the scaffolding needed to keep those students on track. Fortunately, building that scaffolding doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

Eureka College, a 166-year-old liberal arts institution in central Illinois, has found that a well-crafted probation and suspension strategy can succeed beyond expectations. Before I say more, I want to recognize two incredibly talented and creative people at Eureka who are the architects of this program: Registrar Kendi Onnen and Provost Ann Fulop. Truly, the best ideas we see come from the institutions we work with.

In 2017 the team at Eureka developed a plan to engage proactively with students who were on academic probation or suspension and offer them the opportunity to retake an approved course or courses over the summer. If the student agreed, Eureka effectively granted them an approved appeal of their probation or suspension. If the student earned an A or B in the course, their status would be reviewed and almost invariably restored.

Over the next two summers—2018 and 2019—Eureka succeeded in retaining 35 of the 41 students who had lost their good academic standing and agreed to enroll in the summer courses. Without this second chance, it’s almost certain that some of these students’ academic journeys would have come to an end.

Eureka has found that managing the program takes minimal effort. As the spring semester comes to a close, the registrar’s office reviews the files of at-risk students. It analyzes their GPAs and credits earned to date, looks for courses that could be repeated over the summer, calculates how many credits they need to stay on track, and recommends a plan that gives the student the best chance of success.

The most successful institutions we work with tell us there are two keys to making this work:

  • You need a robust selection of courses to choose from
  • You need to communicate clearly to the students and their academic advisors

At Eureka, the process takes about three-person days each spring, a very small price tag, in terms of time and effort for the impact it generates.

And the revenue it produces? In the first year, Eureka retained 18 students it otherwise might well have lost. The fully-discounted tuition for those students was $218,800. And that’s just one year; some of those students came back a second and even a third year. In the second year of the program, Eureka retained another 17 students. Factoring in the carryovers from the first year, tuition revenue in the second year grew to $340,340. In addition to the tuition revenue, over the two summers, Eureka brought in $147,000 in revenue from the summer courses taken by the students.

Add it all up and it comes to more than $700,000 in “saved” and new revenue in two years. Eureka expects that number to grow over time.

Students are pleased as well. Yes, they generally have to pay for the summer course, but the cost is low compared to what they’re paying during the academic year. They also understand that they are protecting the value of the investment they’ve already made in their education.

It’s no wonder that Eureka’s innovative approach to help students recover good academic standing is fast becoming one of the most talked about course-sharing strategies in the network of institutions with whom we work.

As educators, it’s important that we never give up on our students. The transition to college isn’t easy. Students, through no fault of their own, can encounter difficulties at any time. Looking out for those students and providing them with a pathway back is central to our mission.

Want to explore ways to simplify the broken course transfer system? Read Part I of this blog series here

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