Published: June 16, 2016

Keeping students off academic probation

Contact(s): Kim Ward Communication and Brand Strategy office: (517) 432-0117 cell: (734) 658-4250, Douglas Estry Office of the Provost office: (517) 353-5380, Tom Oswald Media Communications office: (517) 432-0920 cell: (517) 281-7129

This past year, the percentage of Michigan State University first-time freshmen placed on academic probation at the end of the fall semester dropped from 10 percent to 8 percent – which accounts for roughly 200 first-time freshmen.

“The most critical time for getting to students and helping them be successful is not just the first year, it’s literally the first semester,” said Douglas Estry, MSU’s associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of undergraduate studies. “On average only 12 percent of the freshmen placed on academic probation in their first semester – which is a GPA below a 2.0 – will graduate in four years. After six years that number increases, but only to 36 percent.”

However, these percentages change significantly with seemingly minor improvements in student performance. For example, 30 percent of the students with first semester GPA’s between 2.0 and 2.5 graduated in four years and 64 percent graduated in six years.

Overall the six-year graduation rate at MSU is 80 percent, which is approximately 21 percent higher than the national average.

How was MSU able to make such a significant dent in this number and help change these students’ lives? Estry said it was a combination of tools, but in particular, MSU’s EASE system.

Enhancing Academic Success Early, or EASE, was developed by MSU as a tool for faculty to report early signs of academic trouble – low grades, missing classes or failing to participate actively in courses. If signs of academic trouble are identified early, advisers and other Student Success Team members can swiftly take action to help the student get back on the path to success.

The Student Success Teams are stationed in each of MSU’s five neighborhoods, the residential housing areas where students live and learn. The team, comprised of a student’s academic adviser, the neighborhood engagement director, a resident assistant and a member of the health team, meets weekly to discuss students who have been identified as facing challenges and to consider intervention that would facilitate student success.

Another student success tool MSU recently began using are results from a survey – Student Behavior and Experience Inventory, or SBEI – that provides information on variables demonstrated to be indicators of student success.

Often referred to as noncognitive variables, the results of the inventory go beyond high school grades and ACT or SAT scores as primary indicators of future academic success.

“The survey provides information on such things as perseverance, adaptability and social responsibility,” Estry said. “The indicators provide advisers with important information that enhance their ability to assist students with their unique needs.”

The freshman class of fall semester 2015 and the entering class for fall 2016 all completed the SBEI survey as part of their application packet. Significant research is being conducted to aid the university in making decisions on how best to move forward with this innovative approach to student support.

“It’s no secret that the cost of higher education is continuing to grow,” Estry said. “The sooner we can graduate a student, the less it costs him or her, keeping their college debt manageable and helping to ensure a successful career.”



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