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New booklet spotlights student counseling, support services
By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu (February 21, 1997)

Faculty and staff wondering where to send a student in need of academic support have a new resource to help them. A booklet with information about programs that provide advising, counseling and support services to students has been mailed on the Storrs campus.

"We put the booklet together because we need to inform the campus community and students that there are support centers around campus where students can get individual attention and guidance when they need it," said Ann Huckenbeck, assistant vice president for enrollment management. Although some students are invited before they come to the University to participate in some of the more structured programs, such as the CAP program or the Counseling Program for Intercollegiate Athletes, in other cases students rely on faculty and administrators for referrals to programs such as the Math Center and the Writing Resource Center.

Now information about the programs -- and phone numbers -- are available in one place.

The booklet is the work of the Retention Advisory Committee, a group established last year to advise the Office of Enrollment Management about ways to make sure more students stay at the University. The committee requested input from schools and colleges on the support services available and incorporated information first compiled in a teaching manual prepared by the former director of the Teaching Institute, Derek Allinson.

A survey prepared by the Office of Institutional Research shows that UConn compares favorably with other public Research I institutions in retention of freshmen and in the percentage of students who graduate in six years. UConn ranked 13th out of 56, with a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent for students in the 1986-1989 freshman classes. At the top of the rankings came the University of Virginia, with 93 percent, and the University of Michigan, with 85 percent. The University of Massachusetts, the only other public Research I university in New England, ranked 25th, with a graduation rate of 65 percent.

Stable rates

UConn also fared well in the percentage of freshmen who returned the following fall, ranking 16th among public Research I universities, with 87 percent. That's 10 percentage points ahead of UMass. The University of Virginia again topped the list, with a freshman retention rate of 97 percent.

Both retention and graduation rates at UConn have been relatively stable over the past few years, Huckenbeck said.

Still, we can do better, she said. "We need to educate students about the things they need to do to be academically successful and encourage them to seek out support. So many come in rather cocky about their ability to do the work and are totally unprepared for the level of work they have to do here."

Freshmen who participate in orientation receive the information, but not every new student attends orientation, Huckenbeck said. "Faculty teaching a class that is primarily freshmen can help by emphasizing that support is available," she said.

The Retention Advisory Committee is coordinating a number of other activities to improve retention, starting with efforts to find out why students leave the University before graduating.

Although there is anecdotal information about the financial, personal and academic reasons why students leave, the University does not have quantifiable data. "We don't know all the reasons why students leave," Huckenbeck said.

To address this, three initiatives are planned or underway: the Dean of Students' Office holds exit interviews with students who leave; Angela Terry, associate vice president of student affairs and services, has conducted research on the experience of minorities; and in the fall, the Office of Enrollment Management and the Division of Student Affairs will administer a student satisfaction survey to gain information from students about the issues they think need to be addressed.

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