Purdue's decentralized curricular and co-curricular efforts can lead to dissatisfaction for students and the University. Thus, the University must identify and facilitate intentional connections between these areas while realigning programs in the most effective manner. In some cases, a change to our organizational design will be necessary and in others, strong partnerships among various domains will help develop a coordinated program. Academic units will need to partner with staff from Housing and Food Services, Advising and Student Affairs to create a connected educational landscape that can be easily navigated by first-year students. Faculty participation is also a key component, because faculty interactions with students both inside and outside of the classroom are critical to student success. Most important, as other Dimension Committees have concluded, in order to bridge the gaps, success of first-year students must be a priority for administration and faculty.
Rethinking Organizational Design
Although Purdue has a number of highly successful support programs for first-year students, these programs are not all aligned in a manner that makes for a synchronous effect. The current structure does not intentionally guide the first-year experience.
The Foundations of Excellence Student Survey results showed that students struggle most often with getting accurate and detailed information regarding non-academic support, but it is not clear whether their lack of understanding is directly related to the organizational structure of support services for first-year students, a lack of communication and coordination across campus or both.
The survey results provided evidence that there is a lack of integration among the various offices serving first-year students at Purdue. On four of the six survey questions related to the Organization Dimension, results demonstrated that students lack sufficient understanding of where to go if they have questions concerning academic rules (e.g., academic probation), administrative questions (e.g., registration), non-academic matters (e.g., money management) and getting involved with an institution-sponsored organization or event.
However, some evidence strongly supports that faculty and staff are knowledgeable about how to direct students to support services, even though there is no single point of reference. In the Student Survey, respondents reported that faculty and staff referred them to the right office when they had questions.
The Organization Dimension Committee found that Purdue's current structure is a "federation" of colleges and departments with an unofficial coordinating body of the SATS department. We also observed that non-academic departments appear to collaborate more than the academic units in regard to first-year students.
The Committee believes that in order to improve student success, Purdue must develop a coordinated, collaborative, University-wide strategy among both academic and non-academic units that will provide support for new students throughout their first year. Additionally, efforts during the first year must address educational issues in order to help students discover their passions and talents. We can create an environment that encourages students to pursue excellence and that supports them in their endeavors.
The Committee found a significant amount of evidence demonstrating that volumes of valuable information are shared with first-year students. Based on the various examples of communication gathered in our research (and logged into the Evidence Library), we believe that up to the point of offer of admission the University speaks with one voice or at least in a consistent manner.
However, after the point of offer of admission, there is considerable disparity and variability among the content and timing of communications to first-year students. Careful study of these items revealed some redundancies and inconsistencies. This is equally true after the start of term.
On one hand, SATS and the Office of Enrollment Management (EM) communicate to new students on behalf of the University; on the other hand, academic units distribute dozens of publications, postcards and emails on behalf of their respective units. In most instances, this communication is not coordinated and there is no central message or call for action. In some instances, these messages conflict. For example, there were disconnects in the content of the University's STAR presentation and the presentations of the colleges and departments.
Our research determined that academic advising is the purview of the colleges, schools and departments. The various advising or student services offices in the colleges and schools are organized under the respective college or school's associate dean for undergraduate education.
Although each college or school provides advising services, the structures of these departments vary. For example, the College of Liberal Arts has a centrally coordinated advising office, the College of Agriculture's advising is conducted primarily by faculty, while others have relatively autonomous departmental advising offices.
We found that only two academic units provide advising specifically tailored to the first year. The College of Engineering provides academic advising as part of its First-Year Engineering Program and has an Assistant Dean for First Year. USP is focused solely on advising students in their first four semesters.
In general, academic advising is not well-synchronized across campus. There is neither a University policy regarding overall advising, nor is there a policy that guides these efforts with regard to first-year students. This has resulted in tremendous variability in the advising experience for first-year students.
A notable exception is the collaboration between academic units. The Heads of Advising meet monthly as a self-convening and self-governing body in order to collaborate and share best practices. Recently, this group has worked (with the support and advice of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs) to develop a template (or best practice) to define the role and qualifications for an academic advisor at Purdue.
Additionally, the Office of the Registrar routinely communicates information regarding registration processes and policies and the campus advising community has made a significant effort to advise the incoming class during the STAR process.
Purdue's Course Signals online early warning and intervention system, described earlier, is an innovative assessment tool. Our study of the Signals system and its efficacy shows that it is a valuable and successful addition to traditional systems, but in order to be truly effective, it must be part of a centrally coordinated and comprehensive program for student success. The system is reliant on:
- Faculty willingness to report progress frequently and interact with Blackboard
- Whether curricula are organized in such a way that progress can be reported in this manner
- A University-wide system or plan for outreach based on resulting signals
Integration of First-Year Work
Purdue does not have a unit that is responsible for the coordination and oversight of the first-year and the Foundations of Excellence Faculty and Staff Surveys reflect this perception as well as indicate a lack of communication between the different areas responsible for the first-year experience. The University's decentralized efforts have led to redundancy in program offerings across campus, as well as disconnected communication orientation, advising, programming and academic initiatives. This lack of collaboration even seems to play out in some cases of territorialism, lack of transparency and unwillingness to collaborate across campus. The result is a challenging and sometimes frustrating, environment for first-year students.
Interestingly, there are a variety of successful programs designed to facilitate access to and support within higher education for first-generation and low-income students, along with programs that provide direct academic assistance to these students. These programs provide essential services that enable and support academic success. The programs reside at both the University level (e.g., HORIZONS, Academic Success Center, Supplemental Instruction, Purdue Promise, Science Bound) and within the academic units (e.g., help labs, tutoring programs).
We could not discern a University-wide mechanism that synchronizes the efforts of all of these groups or that would effectively connect all of these students to the assets and services available at the University. Similarly, the University-level programs reside in different areas and are not synchronized.
Use of Evaluation Results
The use of evaluation results to improve the first-year experience is varied across campus. Central offices such as SATS, STAR, BGR and Learning Communities, have fairly robust assessment plans and feedback loops. There is significant evidence that these programs each take their feedback and make program alterations for improvement.
For example, the planning, expectations and feedback in Learning Communities is evident in the program's team plan, in the STAR program's communication plan and in the Purdue Promise assessment plans, course feedback, evaluations, focus groups, goals, etc.
Purdue Promise (which is coordinated by SATS) also offers a glimpse into the gap between the actions of central initiatives and the actions of academic units. Much of the effort of Purdue Promise is centralized, not found in the colleges and schools and there is no real indication that there is much sharing either way at a curricular level. The assessment plan indicates that coursework is largely general studies. The program overview suggests a specific scope that is not integrated into the academic units.
Evidence from the academic units is much more mixed. For example, in the College of Engineering's First-Year Engineering Program, there is significant evidence of a deliberate and studied approach to the program year and feedback loops that result in program changes and improvements. Their approach is more comprehensive than what is found in many of the other academic units.
In units without first-year experience coursework, attention to the first-year student is commonly manifested by a program orientation course that is generalist in nature. While these courses are evaluated, the full experience is not. The evaluations are not comprehensive or holistic, but focus on single factors of the experience. This approach is often supplemented by referring segments of the population to centrally provided opportunities such as Learning Communities or Supplemental Instruction.
It should be noted that units often consider the curricular foundation elements of the first-year experience through reviews of the performance of upper-class students. However, at this stage there is likely survivor bias in the data that is collected from students. National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) surveys and other first-year experience campus instruments seem to have limited influence in the academic colleges and schools. While in most cases the units are aware of this data, it is not widely used to advise change in curriculum or in the student experience.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the limited impact that first-year experience evaluations have within the academic units is the responses to Purdue's Deans and Department Heads Survey. The comments indicate limited feedback loops and limited, if any, use of the data. Further, the absolute response rate was disappointing.
This is further borne out by the comparisons of academic advising's contribution to first-year success vis-à-vis the contribution of other units. Unfortunately, this is not new information to the University, as referenced in the Higher Learning Commission report.
Faculty and Staff Development
As described in Purdue's 2010 Self-Study Report, there are many development opportunities for professional development on campus. Yet, Purdue does not have many formal development opportunities for faculty and staff to learn about the first-year experience. Based on evidence from the Faculty and Staff Survey, the Student Survey and discussions with various departments and units (e.g., CIE, Teaching Academy and the Office of the Provost) about specific training efforts, we determined that each unit within the University disseminates this information differently and the efforts take a variety of forms. It appears that many of the development efforts are at an individual level (e.g., attending workshops or conferences, reading professional materials or presenting and publishing). In many academic units, academic advisors help faculty understand first-year issues. It is possible that staff in some units have had more training opportunities in this area than faculty.
Three questions in the Faculty and Staff Survey directly addressed resources. Although the questions relate to both personnel resources and fiscal resources, we believe that personnel resources must necessarily involve fiscal resources. In this regard, the evidence is limited in usefulness.
As a result, the Committee composed an additional three-item survey that was reviewed by the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs and the Gardner Institute. This survey was distributed to 18 leadership representatives in the academic colleges, libraries, International Programs, units reporting to the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs (Undergraduate Studies Program, SATS, ASC, Enrollment Management), Student Affairs and the Honors College. These representatives were asked to further distribute the survey to those within their units with direct responsibility for the first-year student experience. Surveys were returned by 11 units.
Based on survey responses and other evidence, we found that depending on the unit, financial resources range from generally adequate to inadequate. As new needs emerge, they do not usually come with additional resources. For example, in at least one reported unit, while staffing costs are supported, fundraising is required to support all programming costs.
While the unavailability of over-subscribed course lists makes it difficult to assess the number of students who are unable to register for courses, it is reported that some courses are insufficient to meet the need.
Classroom and instructional laboratory space has increased significantly over the past 10 years through addition and renovation, but there is still a need for classrooms to be renovated and instructional equipment to be upgraded to take advantage of new technologies and pedagogies (e.g., IMPACT).
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Scholarships, especially for underrepresented populations, are inadequate.
Issues with academic advising and counseling relate to varying levels of staff expertise and a wide range of staff-to-student ratios across the academic units, thus providing students with significantly different experiences with advisors.
Generally, support services need to be enhanced and better coordinated, including tutoring opportunities, Graduate Student Teaching Assistants (GTAs), Undergraduate Teaching Assistant support and expansion of services and staffing in CAPS.
- Expand admit-to-university opportunities.
- The experiences and understandings of first-year students are that many are unaware of their options. Moreover, many talented students have yet to narrow their scope to a single major. While some first-year courses easily transfer to other majors, other first-year courses have limited portability, leading to increased time to degree. Thus, given the uncertainty among our students, it is incumbent on the University to provide the opportunity for students to discover their career interests.
- We recommend a hybrid model of admission by which a significantly larger number of students is admitted to a University-level program in the first year (so-called, exploratory) and reduce the number admitted directly to a program.
- The number of students admitted to the University division and those admitted directly to a program would be determined collaboratively between the University and the colleges and schools. We believe this model will better facilitate the movement of students across programs.
- We recognize that a model of all students being admitted to a University division is unlikely to be successful within the context of Purdue. However, we believe that the University, in consultation with the colleges and schools, could limit admittance directly to program (criteria defined by the program faculty) and that all others could be admitted into a first-year program for undergraduate studies. These students would either pursue academic exploration (in the vein of the current USP) or coursework that would prepare them for ultimate movement into a specific program (pre-program).
- Establish a comprehensive student success organization at the University level with responsibility to coordinate all undergraduate student access, transition and success activities (in the first year and beyond).
- Align the organization under the Office of the Provost, including orientation programs, Learning Communities, the Common Reading Program, Supplemental Instruction, Purdue Promise, Twenty-First Century Scholars site supervision and support coordination, HORIZONS, Science Bound and the Academic Success Center. Further, the portfolio of this organization should include tutoring, peer-mentoring, academic assistance and support to transfer, veteran and commuter students.
- This organization should also be empowered to coordinate, complement and support related efforts that reside within the academic units.
- This organization should be advised by a board or committee of faculty and staff.
- Establish a consistent first-year seminar course requirement.
- A consistent seminar experience is an intentional effort to formulate an overarching message that is received by all first-year students, helping to build a foundation for graduation from Purdue.
- Every program that admits first-year students should offer a course that would be a combination of unit-appropriate content and content determined by the University to be appropriate to facilitate first-year student success and establish core principles. Examples of possible University core principles might include academic expectations, academic integrity, student rights, information literacy, common reading and campus resources. The actual core principles should be developed with input from all academic and student success areas and reviewed on a continuing basis to remain relevant. Course content should be sufficiently common across all majors so that a change in major would not require a student to take an additional first-year seminar.
- This effort should be coordinated under the Office of the Provost, guided by a faculty-led committee and specifically connected to the core curriculum.
- Create a University-level division for student success.
- We recognize that this Committee's other recommendations are functionally related and could be clustered under a single organizational unit. This umbrella organization would oversee the first-year experience including the University-level program and success programs. The unit would also coordinate foundational course availability, first-year seminars and professional development programs across the University. This unit would focus on the first-year experience (and beyond) and be complementary to and integrated with academic units.
- This unit would be the responsibility of a senior academic leader. A primary function of this organization would be to facilitate the involvement of faculty and staff from across the University in providing an outstanding first-year experience for all students.
- The benefit of this is that Purdue will have an intentionally developed and coordinated University-wide strategy and organization that will provide support for new students throughout their first year. We will create an environment that better encourages students to pursue excellence and that supports them in their endeavors. Thus, academic and support units will need to fully and collaboratively participate in the first-year experience as we shift the focus of our efforts to facilitate student success.
- Coordinate academic advising in the first year at the University level.
- The University-level organization (described above) should be staffed with professional advisors who have a manageable and appropriate advisee load in accordance with professional norms. Students admitted to individual programs would receive a similar set of advising opportunities guided by the same professional norms. These services would be provided by college and school advisors and be coordinated at the University level.
- Establish a process that coordinates service courses.
- Ensure that service course space needs are identified well in advance, offered in a timely fashion and distributed in such a way that students, particularly in the first year, are able to make satisfactory academic progress. It will be especially important to provide space in foundational courses for the students who will be admitted to the University-level program.
- This activity should be coordinated with the Office of the Provost to help direct needed offerings and determine supportive funding. The formal process should include participation by representatives of all stages of the process, including the Office of Enrollment Management, the colleges' and schools' associate deans and the Office of the Registrar. The process should monitor the outcome of meeting student course needs and use that information, in conjunction with other data, as a feedback loop into future enrollment management and programmatic funding decisions.
- Develop faculty and staff training.
- Training efforts must be intentional, focused, consistent and help faculty and staff meet students where they are and help move them toward success. It is important to note that faculty and staff have specific training needs when seeking to improve their positive impact on students (e.g., instruction methods). However, there are a number of areas that overlap, suggesting some joint training efforts would be effective and advisable. These areas can include general student development concepts and theory, trends in students matriculating to Purdue, etc.
- Proposed training efforts should be conducted through existing channels whenever possible. For example, New Faculty Orientation should include a first-year experience component.
- Staff and new GTAs who work closely with first-year students should also have an orientation program with relevant information within the first several months of employment. Create a professional development track for continuing lecturers (non-tenure-track instructional staff hired primarily to teach large enrollment foundational courses).
38. Evidence Library #442: Learning Communities Participation Chart; #444: Learning Communities Team Plan; #301: STAR 2012 Communications Group; #481: Purdue Promise Assessment Plan; #482: Purdue Promise FYE Course Feedback; #483: Purdue Promise FYE Course Evaluation; #484: Purdue Promise Cohort Goals; #485: Purdue Promise Cohort Goals; #486: Purdue Promise FYE Course Pre-Test; #487: Purdue Promise First-Year Evaluation; #488: Purdue Promise Academic Coaching Evaluation; #489: Purdue Promise Academic Coaching Evaluation from Student; #490: Purdue Promise Mentoring Evaluation; #491: Purdue Promise Signals Notifications Email; #492: Purdue Promise Signals Intervention Dates; #493: Purdue Promise Sophomore Focus Group Questions and Feedback; #494: Purdue Promise Student Leader Training Pre-test; #495: Purdue Promise Student Leader Post-test; #496: Purdue Promise Mentoring Focus Group. Purdue University.
44. 2010 Re-accreditation Self-Study Report for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: Reaching New Heights. Purdue University. http://www.purdue.edu/accreditation/2010/index.php (accessed July 12, 2012)
45. Evidence Library #557: Cover Letter for Assessment of Financial Resources for First-Year Services and Support; #558: Assessment of Financial Resources for First-Year Services and Support. Purdue University.
46. 2010 Re-accreditation Self-Study Report for the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools: Reaching New Heights. Purdue University. http://www.purdue.edu/accreditation/2010/index.php (accessed July 12, 2012)