First-year students’ struggle prompts Quality Enhancement Plan

Amid rumors of an unusual number of Class of 2020 students at risk of academic probation and dismissal, university officials were unable to fulfill requests for comprehensive data on student performance during their first semesters at Trinity by press time.

According to the university’s website for the latest Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), nearly one third of first-years receive deficient grades: “40 percent of those deficient grades are a ‘F.’ “

The document, written on Dec. 20 and 21 of 2016, notes that more than six percent of Trinity first years earned a GPA under 2.0 after their first semester. It cites data from the National Survey of Student Engagement: “Trinity scores below our peer and peer-aspirant institutions in first-year advising in virtually all survey items.”

“There has been an increase in struggling first-year students this year,” said John Hermann, associate professor of political science and chairman of the QEP, titled Starting Strong: Intentional Strategies for Improving First-Year Student Success at Trinity University. “I have the exact data, but….”

He trailed off, having previously explained that he wasn’t at liberty to share specific information.

“Our goal with the [First-Year Experience] was to really make sure that every first-year student, right away [once] they got on campus, had an intensive writing, reading, and analytical thinking experience,” says Tim O’Sullivan, interim associate vice president for academic affairs. “We want to make sure we’re giving students the support to be successful in those classes, and I’m confident that we have been.”

When asked whether the office of institutional research could comment on how many students are in good academic standing as opposed to being on academic probation or facing academic dismissal, Diane Saphire, vice president for information resources and administrative affairs and director of institutional research, directed the Trinitonian to the registrar.

“We don’t have that data, we don’t produce that data,” Saphire said. “We have retention rates, we have graduation rates, we have test scores in the [university data] factbook. … We update that annually.” The registrar did not respond before press time.

As the Trinitonian reported last week, the QEP is in its development stage. Subcommittees meet regularly to form strategies to accomplish the QEP’s goal of enhancing first years’ performance and acclimation to the workload of higher education.

“When you come to a rigorous academic university like Trinity and you’ve been a very highly successful high school student, … the expectations here — if you’re not prepared and don’t have the strategies — can really be a shock to your system,” said Stacy Davidson, director of academic support and chair of the QEP’s academic support subcommittee. “It’s not that it has anything to do with ability. It has to do with, ‘What skills do I have to navigate the increased level of difficulty that I’m experiencing? Am I a good manager of my time? Am I a good reader and do I take good notes? Do I know study strategies to help me understand the material?’ That’s where I see students struggle the most.”

Davidson was eager to suggest ways for Trinity students to improve their work, whether they’re struggling or want to turn a good job into a great job.

“Advisers are a resource, faculty are resources, the counseling center is a resource — all those things matter,” Davidson said. “I don’t want it to appear that I’m the only person on campus that can help students. There’s a lot of support for students on campus.”

Hermann believes that common teaching methods are in need of readjustment.

“Student success will only go so far because it assumes that the student is the only one — and this is very controversial — that needs to be rehabilitated. But maybe students are learning a little differently,” Hermann said. “So maybe we need to investigate pedagogical tools that will address these learning changes. I certainly hope the changes made will make an enduring change for Trinity on how we approach students. Especially I would love it to be a student-centered approach.”

O’Sullivan explains that the QEP will move into its five-year implementation stage once if it is accepted by an accrediting team in February 2018.

“It’s about things like strengthening the workshop that advisers go through, figuring out how we can better fit their needs,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re also looking at the academic support resources part of the QEP, things like ‘How do we strengthen the tutoring programs?’ There’s been discussion of how to make sure that students and faculty are more aware of the many resources that are available on campus, and how we measure that.”

Students looking for advice, academic coaching, tutoring and other forms of aid are encouraged to engage with the Student Success Center, which encompasses counseling services, health services, wellness services, the writing center and other campus services.