UNC System grant will help with student retention initiatives

WCU has received a grant for more than $200,000 from the UNC System that will assist with student retention.

As Western Carolina University continues to break enrollment records, which include topping the 11,000 mark for the first time last fall, the next step is to retain those students.

In an effort to see those new students return the following year, WCU has secured a grant for more than $200,000 from the University of North Carolina System. As part of receiving the grant, the university agreed to contribute $59,000 to help with WCU retention rate.

Two faculty members who were instrumental in securing those funds were Kae Livsey, associate professor in the School of Nursing and the College of Health and Human Science’s Dean Fellow for Strategic Initiatives, and Bruce Henderson, a professor of psychology.

The immediate impact of the grant will be the hiring of two temporary staff members – one in the Office of Student Transitions to specifically assist with retention, and one in the Mentoring and Persistence to Success office to help retain students in the Academic Success Program, said Lowell Davis, associate vice chancellor for student success.

Another component will be a webinar series for parents as a means to get them more engaged and allow them to follow their son or daughter throughout their college experience.

“We do have a number of first-generation students at our institution, so we understand parents are not always equipped to have conversations with them about the small, but important, details included in the college process,” Davis said. “We want to provide the parents with the resources and the tools that they need to assist their kids in being successful here at Western.”

The grant also provided funds for the curriculum for the transition course, taken by many freshmen, to be revised. The revision is being led by Henderson; Glenda Hensley, director of Student Transitions; and Mary Ella Engel, associate professor and head of the Department of History.

That revision will include five lessons focusing on race, class and gender. “With some of the issues that have taken place on campus, we felt like this was an opportunity for us to include some of that in a course that many of our freshmen take,” Davis said.

Also added to the course is a textbook titled “Make it Stick,” as well as professional development workshops for faculty members who are teaching the course. Davis said about 90 percent of this year’s USI courses will be taught by full-time faculty members, including one academic dean, several department heads and tenured faculty.

“That historically has not been the case,” Davis said. “We think this grant is also helping ensure that our freshmen students are really going to interact with our academic leadership during their freshmen year where historically that does not happen until they’re into their major classes. We are excited about that, as well.”

Funding will be in place for multiple student assessments – including one prior to the start of the summer and another in the fall.

The initiation also includes supplemental instruction, which will be aimed at ASP students, who were not retained at a rate as high as the university would like, Davis said. ASP students come to Cullowhee for five-week classes beginning in late June. Those students are in highly structured schedules, taking all courses together during the summer, and then taking one course together in the fall.

Davis said this year students will be grouped together in three classes during the fall and another in the spring. “This will provide the support they need to be successful and hopefully we can retain a higher number of them as we move forward,” he said.

While Davis is excited about the extra help the one-year grant will provide, he can’t help but brace for what will happen once the 2018-19 year is over.

“This grant will fund positions for the 2018-19 fiscal year. Once that year is complete, this work will go back to the individuals who are in the office on permanent dollars,” Davis said. “That’s probably the hardest aspect of planning for this grant. It is great that we got this money, which will provide for both extra hands and some extra fiscal resources, but ultimately it is one-time money that will not be part of the equation in future years, so we will try to do more with less when the grant has concluded.”