After just one year, retention initiatives implemented at the Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics are making a significant difference. The Leighton School first-to-second year retention in fall 2015 was 69.3%, the highest on campus. It increased from 63.9% in fall 2014.
With a goal to increase freshmen retention, IU South Bend Judd Leighton School of Business and Economics administrators and faculty implemented several new strategies aimed at helping first-year students succeed. Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs and Professor of Accounting Beth Kern explained, “We wanted to put a structure in place for our freshmen that would help them be successful in their first year of college and transition to a more demanding collegiate academic environment.”
To build rapport between faculty and first-year students, freshmen cohorts were formed. Cohorts share three introductory business classes that are linked together and provide an open block of time where students can seek extra help and build connections with professors, peer mentors, and fellow students. The classes are taught by faculty who have a special interest in engaging first-year students. In addition, each cohort also assigned a peer mentor, who is there to help them assimilate to the academic demands of college.
The earlier faculty and staff can identify problems, the better the chance that students will be successful. “We see the same students and get to know them,” explained Dr. Kern. “In turn, we can engage with them and help them deal quickly with any issues that may arise.
In addition to strong faculty engagement, cohorts also have a block of open time each week scheduled with their peer mentor. They provide tutoring and advice, as well as create opportunities for student engagement outside the classroom.
Stephen Salisbury, a Leighton School peer mentor and sociology and economics major, designed a service project at the Center for Homeless with his cohort. The students set up a convenience store in the Center, so residents could purchase sundries and food items at the shelter for a reasonable price. “Before we helped the Center set up a convenience store, residents had to go outside the Center and purchase these items and often at a much higher cost,” said Salisbury.
Drawing on his many years of experience in the restaurant industry, Salisbury was able to mentor the students as they developed a small business from the ground up. “After we determined the best way to implement the project,” said Salisbury, “students researched vendors, pricing, and quantities. It was a very practical application of what they were learning in class.”
As the president of the Economic Forum, Salisbury also encouraged his cohort to attend a field trip to the Chicago Board of Trade. “They loved the trip,” he commented. “Many of them had never been to Chicago, so it was definitely an eye-opening experience.”
Research shows that the more actively engaged students are with college faculty and staff, other students and the subject matter they study, the more likely they are to learn and persist toward achieving their academic goals. “Creating a structure and providing experiences that helps our first-year students succeed is the key to retention,” said Dr. Kern. “If they are successful their first year, they are much more likely to return and ultimately achieve their academic goals.”