Northern Vermont University-Johnson has filled an advising position that was created with the funds from a Title III grant awarded to the university. This new position focuses on increasing support for those past their first year and gives sophomores with undeclared majors an additional resource.
“What this role allows is for our students to feel like there’s someone else they can go to once they get through their first year,” said Brady Rainville, who is the new academic and study-away advisor.
“That first-year transition is really difficult, but we want to make sure that we’re providing enough support beyond that. When a student is looking for another resource after that first year, being able to come to someone in the advising office will be really beneficial for them. Primarily, I will be working with second-year students who are still undeclared, but I will also be working with students in their third or fourth year who need additional advising. We’re really going to be looking at the retention of students throughout the process, not just first and second year, but throughout their whole tenure here.”
The Title III grant’s purpose is to improve student retention past freshmen year. It is a five-year grant that overall totals $1.8 million. NVU-Johnson started receiving the grant on Oct. 1, 2018.
“This specific grant is about retention and persistence,” said Kathleen Brinegar, associate academic dean, “to make sure that, when students are admitted to NVU-Johnson, we are doing everything we can to make sure they can stay and graduate.”
NVU-Johnson was chosen to receive the grant after submitting a multi-part plan to increase retention rates. According to Brinegar, the six-year graduation rate is 45%, with the majority of students leaving in between their first and second year. The biggest focus of the plan is on academic programs and institutional management.
“That is, in essence, fostering early and ongoing student success through looking at college-wide initiatives and things that we can put in place to best support students,” said Brinegar. “We have three strategies for achieving what was written in there. The first was to centralize and improve systems for student support, that’s stuff around advising and initiatives around first-year experience and adding a sophomore experience. Then there’s also more centralized data-collection process, so we can better hear from students. To find ways for students to communicate with us on what’s working and what’s not working, then use data to make decisions about where to invest money to best help students. Then there’s a piece around academic engagement, so redesigning courses that first and second year students take to make them have more high impact practices in them. Internships, field trips, things like that.”
The last time NVU-Johnson had a Title III grant, which ended in 2009, it was focused on retention of first-year students. This time, part of the focus is filling in gaps that form when students change advisors going into their second year and beyond.
At the end of their first year, students who have declared their major are given a faculty advisor who will be able to advise the student more specifically on the relevant degree program. However, there are gaps that can arise depending on the faculty advisor’s experience and knowledge of advising, leading to a difference in advising experiences that can impact retention.
“In speaking to advising, office of first year experience, student affairs and a variety of different offices on campus that meet regularly to discuss the grant, we talked about how we have this intense advising in the first year with your first-year advisors,” said Brinegar. “After that, you have faculty advisors and their expertise in advising varies across faculty. So basically, a student’s advising experience differed based on who their faculty advisor is. The idea with this position is for sophomore students and beyond to have an advisor they could go to in addition to their faculty advisor to get additional support. For example, if you are a student and you are interested in changing your major, but you don’t feel like your faculty advisor has enough knowledge of all the majors on campus, you can go to Brady and he can help you think of a new major. He’s also going to be in charge of the National Student Exchange Programs and the International Student Exchange Programs. He’s going to be an advisor for undeclared students as well. It frees up Sara Kinerson, who is the director of advising, to focus more of her time and energy on helping faculty become better advisors, so it really accomplishes two different things.”
Reliability of advising allows students to make informed decisions about their future. When college life and the road to graduation get muddled, it is critical to have someone who is skilled in advising that a student can fall back on. This advisor can pick up on a student’s graduation trajectory before it gets too late to fix.