FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 22, 2008
Contact: K.E. Schwab
SRU pilots new tool to help freshmen transition, succeed in college
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - A new assessment tool designed specifically to enhance a student's ability to make a successful transition to college is being piloted at Slippery Rock University and is already receiving accolades from students and faculty alike.
MAPWorks is an online computer software program that provides both students and University professional staff with relevant, timely information that allows for appropriate interventions before the student is at risk of failure. The program is available to all incoming, first-time college students at SRU, especially those involved in the FYRST Year Seminar classes.
"We are very pleased with the way the program is working," said Amanda Yale, associate provost for enrollment services and a MAPWorks proponent. "We know that each student admitted to SRU has the potential and ability to be successful. With this software, we can identify early on any barriers they may be facing, and, in many cases, offer solutions to eliminate or mitigate problems - resulting in student success."
Ball State University initiated the program more than 20 years ago, Yale said. It was upgraded and put into commercial use by Educational Benchmarking. "This is our first year for piloting a one-year program to see if it works for our students," Yale said. The program may be expanded next year to cover students at the sophomore level, or be retained as an entering freshmen student program.
Thus far, nearly 90 percent of all SRU freshmen are taking advantage of the program, Yale said. "We have seen responses from 1,373 freshmen who took a very extensive survey that launched the MAPWorks project. Students, as well as those involved in the program at the staff level, including those teaching FYRST Seminar classes to first-year students, residence life staff, including retention services staff, housing staff, those in intercultural program areas, as well as athletics staff and student leadership staff, can view aggregate results from the survey. Individual students may review their own responses and compare their answers to totals supplied by their peers."
The survey covers topics including native language, parental educational levels, grade averages in high school, health issues, financial issues, personal relationships and homesickness. "It also brought us new information," Yale said. She sites a series of questions about how many students bring computers - 90 percent, mostly laptops - to campus; how many spend at least one hour a day on social networks - 50 percent, and how much time is spend up to an hour daily texting (68 percent) and instant messaging (30 percent).
The survey covered two major areas, academics and student development. On the academic side, questions dealt with reading, writing and speaking skills; items that could interfere with class attendance; how students maximize their study skills; and other related topics. On the development side, questions examined health and wellness; stress indicators; commitment to college; an interest inventory; and social aspects of living on campus, including roommate and neighbor relations.
"The survey found nearly 50 percent of SRU freshmen report they anticipate their greatest challenge in transition to college will be time management and study skill improvement," Yale said.
"In looking at responses, we can see the number of students who said they were having problems with homesickness - 4.9 of the respondents - and we can offer help through our residence hall programs, community assistants in the residence halls, those from the residence hall staff and faculty involved with the FYRST Year Seminar classes before it gets out of hand," she said.
Yale said interventions could be a one-on-one meeting or e-mailing the student about joining specific clubs or organizations on campus, helping the student become involved with special programs or helping the student make campus friends.
"A major part of MAPWorks is to see that a student gets the most out of their college experience as possible. It also helps them achieve both their academic and personal goals, in part, by reminding of the items they noted as important in their initial individual surveys," Yale said.
The software program has been customized to tie to actual programs offered at Slippery Rock University. MAPWorks often offers potential solutions, naming specific SRU programs designed to provide the specific kind of remedy needed.
"By using the online program, students get immediate feedback. Once 30 percent of the possible students have completed the survey - which was actually achieved in the first day the survey was available - students could compare their individual responses to those of their peers. A large number of our faculty teaching FYRST Year Seminar classes are making extensive use of the program. They monitor a student's progress and identify problems areas needing proactive intervention," Yale said.
In addition, residential staff also have data access, allowing them to follow up in the same areas as they monitor students in their living and learning environment. "This is a perfect way to identify students in need of academic and social/personal support," Yale said.
"Part of our goal is to help students focus on the elements needed to succeed academically. Through their individual successes SRU's retention rates - and the University's graduation rate - will continue to increase. We will minimize the number of drop outs from those that could have been retained by self awareness or through early intervention by the professional staff," Yale said.
A follow-up survey is planned for later this semester. The data will be integrated with earlier responses to see how students are faring in meeting their goals.
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.