Notes from the ARC: Improving retention and graduation rates through Project Succeed

San Jose State University (SJSU) developed Project Succeed to help improve retention and graduation rates, while also closing the achievement gap for Under-Represented Minorities (URMs).

The program has three major goals: strengthen SJSU’s core academic performance in graduation and retention, provide an improved supportive environment for URM students, and enhance the delivery and integration of academic and co-curricular support services. 

To help achieve these goals, we launched Project Succeed with five initiatives: block scheduling of freshmen, increasing the number of peer educators in undergraduate classes, creating first-year experience (FYE) courses for freshmen, creating a new faculty/staff mentor program for undergraduates, and expanding Living Learning Communities at SJSU.

Block Scheduling

We have been block-scheduling freshmen for three years. Since fall 2015, we have increased the number of majors participating in block-scheduling each year. In fall 2015, freshmen in the Colleges of Business and Engineering were assigned schedules that included at least two shared classes with other students in their major. 

After two years, the fall 2015 blocked students from these colleges were retained in higher numbers than unblocked students from other SJSU colleges. Also, when compared to non-blocked students, blocked URM students showed an increase in two-year retention rates. Additionally, after two years, we saw increased retention for both men and women in blocked classes. Peer EducatorsPeer educators include several positions at SJSU: peer mentors, embedded tutors, learning assistant, Supplemental Instruction Leader, and Classic Tutor. Currently, there are 93 Peer Educators in Spring 2018 and we are planning to increase the number of peer educators working in undergraduate classrooms in Fall 2018. 

First Year Experience

First Year Experience is the newest program which started in Fall 2017. We piloted three FYEs: a three-unit FYE course (Sci 2), a one-unit FYE course (UNVS 95), and an online orientation plus FYE (unit-less). Student surveys were conducted at the end of the semester and a majority of students in the FYE pilots agreed or strongly agreed that FYE successfully helped them achieve the learning outcomes. The program’s purpose is to offer detailed information of the resources available to students on campus, successful learning strategies, a sense of community on campus, and more. 

Faculty Staff Mentor Program

Since its pilot in Fall 2016, we have since experiences a steady increase in mentor and student mentee involvement since the original pilots. Since piloting the Faculty/Staff Mentor program in Fall 2016, we have grown our faculty/staff mentor count to a total of 221 mentors campus-wide. With the increased mentor count, we have also increased the number of students enrolled, reaching a total of 460 students. The program has shown promising feedback from mentors and mentees alike during public focus groups. 

Student Living Learning Communities

The Residential Life team has set up Living Learning Communities (LLCs) for incoming students to help students deepen their connections with their peers and encourage college success. There are currently six LLCs located in the first-year communities at SJSU: Arts Village, Black Scholars Community, BUILD (Business Innovation & Leadership Development), CELL (Community for Engineering Living & Learning), Global Village, and Rainbow Village. We are going to expand the number of LLCs at SJSU over the next two years. 

Patricia Backer is professor of technology at San Jose State University. She will discuss Project Succeed further at the #2018ARC on Thursday, April 26 in a session entitled, “Strategies to Increase Retention of First and Second Year Students.” Learn more here

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