At Wednesday’s Town Hall Meeting, Deans Lennie and Feldman recognized in their discussion of student life that the retention and graduation rates for UR undergraduates are not as high as they would hope. To address this problem, we must understand why students are leaving, or, conversely, why students are staying. Students that feel intrinsically connected to UR are students who are going to complete their degrees here, and institutionalizing ways to strengthen that bond is essential.
The strategic plan and a review of the advising structure provide an excellent opportunity to do just that. A new advising structure should seek to help students find an academic community they are connected to earlier in their academic careers.
Assigning incoming freshmen to advisors within a previously-stated area of interest and intended study promotes that goal. These departmental freshman advisors can initially serve as the standard freshman advisors during Freshman Orientation. But once the academic year actually begins, they can take on the role of more personal academic advisors to their students. This provides advisors an increased ability to connect to a student on a more personal level – as a representative from a department the student is interested in. They can advise students more specifically on topics within their department, personally invite them to organized departmental events and introduce them to other professors. Through these connections, the advisors can truly make students part of an academic community that they feel comfortable and welcomed in.
A potential criticism of such a plan is that it locks students into a department that they may soon realize they aren’t happy or successful in. However, if these advisors and students get to know each other, the advisors are more equipped to open doors to other departments and the advisors within them, and students will be less likely to fall into cracks as they discover where their academic interests truly lie.
Implementing this plan creates an environment where freshmen can establish a connection to UR very early in their academic careers, which can only improve retention.