Student Success Initiatives: Support a "Culture of Commencement"

naIn the Lasallian Tradition, Saint Mary’s strives to empower the student in mind, body and spirit. Equally important is ensuring each student graduates on time with a viable degree.

Since the 1980s, colleges and universities have been concerned about retention. Even a smaller school like Saint Mary’s is challenged with keeping undergraduate students on track toward earning a four-year degree.

“It is a matter of national concern and we’re not exempt from that,” said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academics Richard Carp, adding that the Catholic tradition and Lasallian heritage compel the College to lead the charge for student success.

To help achieve this goal, the College launched a series of initiatives last year to support what SMC calls a “culture of commencement.” Saint Mary’s has set up a Student Success Office that is integrating programs already in place like financial aid, career counseling, tutoring, student engagement and discipline.

The idea is for the departments to work collaboratively—and proactively—to identify students who need services. “Somebody in a residence hall notices someone is having trouble with their roommate. A financial aid counselor or faculty member notices a student not participating at the same level as others.” It could be the same person, he said, and the goal of the Student Success Office is to get to this person early, while they can still be helped.

A retention alert system provides a high-tech backbone for this high-touch approach. “The idea is to be able to identify students who we know will benefit from certain resources early,” said Carp. “Anyone may fall into difficulty, and we want to notice this as soon as possible so we can provide resources to help them before they get in trouble.”

Carp said the College is actively seeking new cutting edge ideas to help with the student success initiatives. Staff members are going to national conferences and actively listening to colleagues. “The bedrock of student success is an education and a degree. We want to build support for the whole human being,” he said.