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UC’s Rising Retention and Graduation Rates the Result of a Success Challenge


Find out about state funding and support programs that are increasing the numbers of UC students achieving their diplomas and their dreams.

Date: 9/16/2008 12:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot  

The University of Cincinnati is the third-highest in the nation among extensive research institutions in the percentage of Pell-eligible students – students who demonstrate an extreme need for financial assistance. Financial struggles, new students, undecided majors, first-generation college students, cultural conflicts, feeling socially isolated and academic worries are all issues that can threaten student success in staying in school and graduating from college.

Baldwin Hall

Yet, UC’s Office of Institutional Research is reporting a success story as UC announces higher retention rates. Retention rates at UC have increased from 77 percent in 2003 to 83 percent in 2008. The office reports that Pell-eligible students participating in so-called Success Challenge programs were more than twice as likely to graduate from college, compared with Pell-eligible students who did not participate in the programs.

“Our Success Challenge programs have been very effective for increasing rates of retention and improving overall levels of student satisfaction,” says Anthony J. Perzigian, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. “These changes will, in turn, result in heightened graduation rates.”

Sponsored by the Ohio Board of Regents, the Success Challenge Program was issued to main campuses across Ohio in 1999 in an effort to increase Ohio’s college graduation rates and to shorten time in achieving a degree. UC first began offering Success Challenge funded programs in 2000, and receives approximately $4 million annually to create and continue to fund support programs.

Success Challenge programs range from academic support programs to social programs aimed at building connections to campus, as well as programs to build financial literacy and career and personal development programs. From the high achiever to the struggling student, Success Challenge programs begin as the UC student enters the university – programs such as Bearcat Bound Orientation that educate students and parents about the transition from high school to college – or other First-Year Experience programs that build connections and support systems among UC’s newest students.

“Success Challenge programs are vital to integrating students into both the curricular and co-curricular life of the university,” says Mitchel D. Livingston, UC vice president for Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer.

Here are some other model UC programs supported by Success Challenge funding:

  • The Arts & Sciences Writing Center – The writing center is a free tutorial service intended to help students become more effective writers and more complex thinkers. Instructors who are particularly experienced in a one-on-one approach to writing instruction staff the center. 
  • English Placement Testing and the Right Start Program – English Composition is the only set of courses required of every student at the University of Cincinnati. All new students must take an English Placement test, and this program standardizes the testing and grading. The outcome is that students are placed in the appropriate level (developmental through advanced) so that students are not repeating learning of skills they already possess.
  • Math Placement Testing, Learning Lab and Co-op Calculus – All new students who are required to take math courses take a placement test and are required to enroll at that assessed level. The Math Learning Lab offers walk-in tutoring support for first-and-second year math sequences. Co-op calculus is a problem-session/supplemental instruction credit that has contributed to enhanced success for students enrolled in calculus.
  • First-Year Experience (FYE) Librarian – Success Challenge supports the salary of a librarian who is assigned specifically to help new students become familiar with the vast resources of University of Cincinnati Libraries. The librarian provides presentations and instructional sessions specifically developed to address the needs of new students.
  • Academic advisers – Success Challenge supports salaries for academic advisers in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences (A&S); College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP); College of Applied Science (CAS) and the Transfer and Lifelong Learning Center. Advising services range from mandatory advising for new students to assistance for students who are undecided or in transition between majors or campuses.
  • Career Navigator and Special Topics in Career Development – Funding for these programs assists students in choosing a career goal. Career Navigator is a six-step program to assist in selecting a major or choosing a career. The special topics course assists students in their career decision-making.
  • BASE program – First launched in fall 1996 in the African American Cultural and Research Center (AACRC), Brothers and Sisters Excelling (BASE) is a peer mentoring and role modeling program designed to aid in the development and retention of African-American students. BASE provides a productive and positive atmosphere and establishes a cultural base for African-American students by sponsoring programs and workshops that relate to the black experience.
  • Pre-Professional Advising Center – This center supports students who have identified law, medicine, optometry and other professional school programs as their graduate school choice. It provides guidance through the preparation and application process.
    New Student Orientation – New Student Orientation is UC’s primary arena for helping students understand their obligations and responsibilities as students and for initial placement and registration activities. Success Challenge funding allows UC to keep the self-funded portion of Orientation low so that new students can afford to participate.
  • Learning Assistance Center – This center provides tutoring supports, supplemental instruction supports, learning assistance and strategy seminars and instruction in a variety of study skills courses. 
  • Support for Cincinnati Pride Grant Recipients –  Staff in the Learning Assistance Center also provide secondary academic advising supports and primary academic survival skills to Cincinnati Pride Grant (CPG) students, a grant program for high-need students who graduated from the Cincinnati Public Schools.
  • Center for Exploratory Studies – When it comes to university majors, one of the most popular is “undecided.” UC’s Center for Exploratory Studies guides these students to a decision and an academic pathway that is best for them. The center was officially opened in February 2003. It aims to serve a population that advising officials acknowledge has been largely underserved by the bulk of academia. The center offers courses, advising, major mentoring and online resources to help student select a major that’s the right fit.
  • First-Year Experience (FYE) Programs  – First-Year Experience (FYE) Programs aim to increase student retention and timely graduation by building connections inside and outside of the classroom. National research suggests students who feel connected to their campus are more likely to stay. UC’s FYE  programs begin with the student’s admission to the university and continues through the start of sophomore year. New student orientation, courses and seminars, advising, mentoring programs and extracurricular opportunities like UC’s Camp Bearcat retreat for first-year students are just some of the FYE examples that help students achieve their educational goals.
  • Learning Communities – Learning Communities are an integral part of the first-year experience. A Learning Community is defined as a group of approximately 20 first-year students who take two or more courses together. This helps new students build a network of study partners and friends. Students in learning communities build campus connections beyond the classroom as they participate in community service activities, attend campus events such as concerts and sporting events, and participate in sessions on time management and study skills.
  • Killer courses – Funding is provided for graduate assistants to help students enrolled in courses where the failure and/or withdrawal rate is high. The intent is to provide extra help and guidance so that students succeed in these courses.  Funding is provided in biology, economics, Spanish, calculus, physics, art history, English, math and chemistry.

A UC team representing the Offices of Institutional Research and Enrollment Management will be presenting on the success of UC’s Success Challenge programs at the National Symposium on Student Retention, Sept. 29 through Oct. 1, in Little Rock, Ark.

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