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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Student success a priority at UNM

Officials amp up efforts to get students to ‘key’ third semester

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By Sergio Jiménez / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM President Robert Frank addresses New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee about what UNM is doing to improve student performance and success at its meeting in SUB Ballroom C on Wednesday. The University is trying to attract more students by adding more courses to its catalog, hiring more faculty members and making the campus more attractive.

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As the fall semester nears, UNM continues to develop initiatives in hopes of improving student success on campus.

At a Legislative Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, UNM President Robert Frank said in a presentation that the campus community needs to be more aware of student support systems present at UNM.

Frank said 18 months ago, he, together with the office of the provost, interviewed people at UNM to see how much they know about student success initiatives on campus.

“In the duration of what we did, we learned that a number of things that was underway at UNM weren’t visible on the surface,” he said. “That was a great deal of progress that people we talked to did not know about. Now what we’re doing is to offer the support to help students find their way.”

Frank said since taking office, he has been working with the provost to enhance students’ retention and graduation rates at the University. He said although it is an “awkward measure,” UNM’s six-year graduation rate is improving.

His experience as provost at Kent State University helped him at UNM, Frank said.

“When I was appointed president of the University … there was a great deal of concern about what we call student success,” he said. “I’ve worked on that issue a great deal.”

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah said the University aims to “challenge and support” students. He said his office focuses mainly on increasing students’ retention rate.

“We focus on the first year,” he said. “To make it to that third semester is key. If they make it through the first year, they’re highly likely to graduate.”

Abdallah said because students come from a variety of backgrounds, the University is working to accommodate students of all academic levels. He said universities need to challenge students to keep them motivated and in school.

UNM established the Honors College last school year for those who are “extremely prepared,” Abdallah said.

Still, Abdallah said 30 percent of incoming freshman are placed into introductory studies courses because their ACT scores are not high enough. He said this reflects the insufficient preparation incoming freshman get in some New Mexico high schools.

To help ease this problem, Abdallah said the University holds an extended version of the English 101 course that spans from the summer until the fall semester and operates E-Comp, an online supplemental support for the course, to help students who are placed in the IS course for English. He said the University also opened its Math Learning Lab last semester to allow students who have trouble with numbers to take Math 120, a required course, at their own pace.

Abdallah said these programs will help decrease the number of students who qualify for IS courses in the future. He said he is optimistic this will increase UNM’s graduation rate by at least 3 percent.

The University is trying to attract more students by adding more courses in its catalog, by hiring more faculty members and by making campus more attractive, he said.

“In fact, the president and I had a competition to have five students to go to the University of New Mexico,” he said. “I think he won. He got five, and I got four.”

Additionally, Abdallah said “students drop out because of their finances.” To address this, the University has allotted $2 million for financial aid and for academic incentives for students, he said. He said UNM is also developing a Micro Aid program that could possibly add $500,000 in graduate student aid.

Abdallah said UNM will make advising easier for students this fall with the launch of LoboAchieve, an online advising program. He said the University is also working on a web app that would make degree planning worksheets for all four-year majors available to students online.

The app which is currently in beta, will officially launch Aug. 15.

Frank said these initiatives are not unique to UNM.

“It has happened all over the United States,” he said. “It’s a national model for what things are being done. The things that we are talking about are things that we learned from across the country.”