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A bright student-retention idea

Could a good old-fashioned book club help Roadrunner enrollment soar?

By Lindsey Coulter

December 5, 2018

Hand grabbing book from shelfMetropolitan State University of Denver faculty and staff regularly go above and beyond in support of student success. One particularly interesting — and potentially game-changing — student-success innovation to emerge this semester was the Department of Psychology’s new Student Retention Book Club. Funded with the support of Professor and Department Chair Layton Curl, Ph.D., the club includes full- and part-time faculty as well as academic advisors Greg Singer and Matt Forcella, and faculty advising coordinators Professor Lisa Hagan, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Courtney Rocheleau, Ph.D.

“The club was initiated as a way of meeting the expressed need for more retention support,” Rocheleau said. “Faculty and staff are often eager for these conversations, and the book club provided a good forum.”

The group has met monthly throughout the semester, coinciding with Mug Club, to read and discuss “Teaching Unprepared Students: Strategies for Promoting Success and Retention in Higher Education” by Kathleen Gabriel. The book has served as a great primer to explore strategies such as learner-centered course design and classroom-assessment techniques.

“While (the book) wasn’t a big expenditure, it had a big impact on our faculty and staff members,” Rocheleau said. “Nobody wants students to feel unable to complete their education because of real or perceived obstacles to their success; and it is only through multiple coordinated efforts that we’re able to effectively and comprehensively support our students.”

Rocheleau added that the text has spurred new ideas and reinforced the value of some efforts already underway to increase graduation rates and student success. For instance, MSU Denver’s new practice of “embedding” advisors in departments and focusing on developmental and holistic advising are examples of best practices. However, as the University does not use the universal registration-hold strategy, advisors and faculty often struggle to get students to take advantage of advising and instructional supports. Therefore, the book club has focused on strategies that faculty can implement in their classes.

According to the text, faculty members can have a serious impact on student success simply by learning their students’ names or helping students develop a meaningful connection with at least one staff or fellow faculty member who can serve as their touchstone and answer questions. Providing flexibility and choice in course assignments, offering multiple feedback opportunities prior to high-stakes assessments and incorporating instruction on study tips/skills and time-management strategies are also high-impact, easy-to-implement practices.

Rocheleau noted that these and other recommendations have inspired invigorating, thought-provoking, engaging conversations, serving as a concrete prompt and focus for student-retention discussions.

“It’s really the discussions themselves, rather than the reading, per se, that have been the most valuable,” Rocheleau said. “I have been pleased — but not surprised — to find that so many of my colleagues share these interests and goals.”

Having received such a positive and enthusiastic response, the club will continue into spring, and members are voting on a new discussion book. While the club is at capacity and is not actively seeking additional members, Rocheleau and other members are happy to chat with anyone interested about the club’s successes and challenges — and would be open to offshoot groups. Those interested can contact Rocheleau for more details.

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