CECH evolves Student Success Team to aid retention efforts

Network of resources works collectively to help students succeed and graduate

“Retention belongs to everyone.”

That statement guides much of the conversations and work of faculty and staff within the College of Education, Criminal Justice, Human Services, and Information Technology (CECH). So much so that the college has created a Student Success Team that serves as a central hub of support services housed within the college. The team also connects students with services provided by offices and centers throughout UC.

The team’s goal: to provide students with the support and resources they need to feel like they belong, stay in school and graduate. 

The impetus for the Student Success Team began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During that time, our students needed so much more than what our academic advisors had capacity for,” says Leah Chamberlain, assistant dean for CECH’s Student Services Center. “They had tech needs, financial needs and mental health needs along with academic needs. It put a lot of pressure on our advisors.”

first-generation ambassadors stand in hallway holding signs

CECH ambassadors help first-generation students transition to college.

Chamberlain says they started to look more holistically at how CECH was supporting students, including who was responsible for retention, what did students need, what gaps existed. In the summer of 2021, they developed a team of people that adopted a case management approach to better support students.

Today, the CECH Student Success Team is comprised of an associate director, two program managers, a program coordinator, an embedded mental health counselor and career development specialist who work alongside college and university specialists in the areas of accessibility, scholarships, transfer and international students.

“Not only is the composition of our team unique but our team is physically embedded in the Student Services Center along with academic advising,” says Chamberlain. “We are able to support both our advisors and students with additional resources and because of our physical proximity advisors can literally walk students to the Student Success Team for help.”

The support network CECH has put in place is helping students academically and socially – it’s making an impact.

Susana Luzuriaga Voight Acting vice provost for academic analytics

CECH team serves food to students

Representatives from CECH serve food to students during an event held by the Student Success Team.

Laura Carnaghi serves as associate director for student success. She says the team spends a lot of time gathering information and data from students and faculty to determine their top needs.

“Our work is rooted in data and is a direct response from what students and faculty are telling us they want,” says Carnaghi. “We conduct surveys and host focus groups with students and our team is constantly reaching out to faculty, so they know we are here to help if they have students who are struggling.”

In spring 2023, the team conducted an undergraduate student needs assessment survey. Carnaghi says 31% of respondents worried about their food running out before they got money to buy more and 28% said in the last 30 days, they cut the size of their meals or skipped meals because there wasn’t enough money for food.

As a result, the team partnered with the Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center to launch a CECH satellite location. The CECH location has given away more than 2,200 pounds of food since its grand opening in October. 

A 2023-24 graduate student needs assessment survey identified career development as a key need of students. Based on the findings, the Student Success Team recently hired an assistant director of career development. Both Carnaghi and Chamberlain say the new position allows the team to work in tandem with faculty to enhance career development support inside and outside the classroom while also complementing and, in some cases, connecting to services provided by UC’s Bearcat Career Studio.

CECH is unique, not only because of its broad degree offerings, but also its student composition. The college had a high acceptance rate last year and is home to a large number of transfer, first-generation and Pell-eligible students as well as nontraditional online students.

“Each college has its own personality, so what works for us may not work for another college,” says Carnaghi. “It’s important that we all talk to our communities, ask hard questions, collect data and then respond. And recognize that the response may look different in each college but is rooted in student need.”

CECH enrollment has increased 28% from fall 2021 to fall 2023.

“Despite growing enrollment, and the changing needs of students, there are signs that CECH’s model is working,” says Susana Luzuriaga Voight, acting vice provost for academic analytics. “It is important to recognize that the support network CECH has put in place is helping students academically and socially — it’s making an impact.”

CECH has seen an increase in retention rates for first-time full-time undergraduate students. Rates rose 1.2% from Fall 2021 to Fall 2023. Although these rates represent an increase over two years, rates dipped slightly from 2022 to 2023.  

Carnaghi and Chamberlain are both proud to say the college has retained 100% of admitted first-year students from Cincinnati Public Schools this academic year.

“Every year our students are changing, and we need to be able to ebb and flow and evolve,” says Carnaghi. “It is important to try things and see what works and learn from what doesn’t and our college leadership has supported that mindset.”

Throughout the year the Student Success Team also hosts events to help cultivate a sense of community and belonging for CECH students. Events include a first-generation mixer, Cincinnati Public Schools mixer that also includes UC graduates, a professional development workshop series, major-specific mixers, Stress Less Weeks and more.

All photos/provided

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