Campus community critical to helping students succeed

by Tina Owen,

“It takes everyone — our entire community — to be the kind of campus and experience our students deserve.”

With those words, Jackie Balzer, special assistant to the president for student success and retention, began a presentation at the Employee Forum on April 4. Along with Gretchen Moon, CLA associate dean for student success, and Mike Moon, senior director of institutional effectiveness, Balzer highlighted Willamette’s multi-faceted efforts to help students succeed both during their time at the university and afterwards.

As Balzer noted, student success and retention is a cornerstone of the university’s strategic plan, and Willamette already is doing much to achieve goals such as 90% of first-year students entering their sophomore year and an 80% four-year graduation rate.

What is student success? Gretchen Moon defined it as: personal development and growth; leadership skills, social responsibility and cultural competency; achievement of academic goals; on-time graduation; career and job placement; and a plan for after graduation.

Personal relationships — just a couple of good friends and one or two mentors — play a significant role in student success. Urging every member of the Willamette community to engage with students and make them feel cared about and welcome, Gretchen said, “You can be a friend, a mentor or a teacher. Even simply saying ‘hello’ and taking a genuine interest in students’ studies can be effective.”

Mike Moon presented data showing the critical importance of a student’s first semester. Of students who entered Willamette 2009-11, only 38% of those who achieved lower than a 3.0 GPA in their first semester eventually graduated, compared to 81% of those who scored higher than a 3.0 GPA.  

Knowledge into Action, the special program for first- and second-years, is one way Willamette aims to help new students get off on the right foot from the beginning. Similarly, the College Compass program, which is being redeveloped for the fall, links new students with Student Success Mentors. These peer mentors help students develop good academic skills and habits, make social connections, and participate in residence hall and extracurricular activities. The College Compass program will also help students identify and declare a major, make career plans, and envision their future by connecting with alumni.

“Some of the reasons why students drop out of college can be overcome,” Balzer explained. “Families are counting on us to support their children. And we’re all here for the students.”