Best Practices

ScholarShot believes that the following Best Practices should be implemented at all universities in order to improve the engagement and outcomes for FGLI students.  Below, we highlight the universities that are exhibiting Best Practices identified by the Report Card survey.  It is important to note that many of the schools have recently begun utilizing these best practices and the best practices may not yet have affected the outcomes for the school. Similarly, while we believe that most schools are using the best practices correctly, there are likely certain practices that are not used correctly or at full capacity, which could explain a gap between the best practices and the universities’ outcomes.  Each university has different strengths and weaknesses, but we are focusing on the strengths that help contribute to better outcomes for FGLI students.

Community Supports

The following universities scored best overall in the Community Supports Category:

  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas A&M University-Commerce
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of North Texas

Summer Bridge Program

A fully funded Summer Bridge Program that takes place during the summer before college entry and is designed to prepare at-risk students with a smooth academic and social transition from high school to college, can be an invaluable experience for FGLI students.  Since First-Generation students often do not have an adult close to them with college experience, a Summer Bridge Program can ease the stress of starting an entirely new lifestyle. Summer Bridge Programs amongst universities can vary, but below are quotes about some supports that the programs can provide:

“Students enroll in four credits which is typically a developmental or core course plus a first-year seminar course. Students receive tutoring and mentoring, plus opportunities to engage with campus community.”

-Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

“Activities include opportunities for students to meet other new students as well as current students, attend a college showcase with their academic college, tour campus and residence halls, participate in Student Recreation Center activities, and learn about Texas Tech traditions…The Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion hosted evening programming centered around first-generation college student experiences with a student panel, conversation rounds, and interactive activities. The conversation rounds were opportunities for students and their guest to ask questions about finances, campus employment, student involvement, health & well-being, and community resources.

– Texas Tech University

“We offered workshops and sessions to assist with the student’s transition to higher education. We offered workshops in the areas of study skills, time management, financial management and utilizing campus resources.”

– University of North Texas at Dallas

The universities that offered a fully funded Summer Bridge Program in Summer 2021 for FGLI students are:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • Texas Tech University
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of North Texas
  • University of North Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas Permian Basin

Living-Learning Communities

Living-Learning Communities are residential communities that introduce and integrate academic and social learning through faculty/staff involvement and a holistic education.  These communities can benefit any student who chooses to live in them but are especially beneficial for FGLI and minority students.  Living-Learning Communities can give First-Generation students and students of color an opportunity to build a community with peers and receive extra supports for their unique challenges.  We asked the universities whether they have First-Generation and/or Race/Ethnic affiliated Living-Learning Communities and if so, to describe the supportive programming that they supply to students.  Here are some quotes about the supportive program students receive in Living-Learning Communities:

“Angelo State University’s First Gen LLC provides residents with programming in areas such as time management, campus resources, safety, how to build a schedule following advisement, financial aid health, stress management, the importance of community and many social programs as well as floor dinners to keep the community engaged.”

– Angelo State University

“Each GenJack takes 7 hours of linked courses their first semester with other GenJacks students. They also receive a Success Coach (Faculty or Staff Mentor on-campus) and a GenJacks Counselor (upperclassman mentor). Through this program, we host social gatherings, service-learning, and professional development opportunities. We also offer living in the Residential Learning Community (RLC), where students can live on the same residence hall floor and participate in events with other GenJacks.”

– Stephen F. Austin State University

“As part of their participation in the community, students take classes together, including a first-generation student success course, have networking opportunities with faculty and staff, receive mentorship, enjoy cultural experiences, and join in service activities.”

– The University of Texas at Dallas

The following schools have Living-Learning Communities with supportive programming for these often-underserved groups of students:

  • Angelo State University
  • Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas State University
  • Texas Tech University
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • The University of North Texas

Text Message Communication

With young people utilizing text messaging to communicate now more than ever, it is important that the universities are also utilizing text messaging to communicate with students.  Using text messages is the best way to get a short, important message across to most young people and is quick and easy for universities to operate.  All but one of the participating schools utilize Text Message Communication, which is an improvement over previous years.  Here are some ways that schools are using this important means of communication:

“Text message communications alerted students about registration dates, applying for financial aid, resolving account hold, setting up academic advising appointments, and resources available for student success (i.e., tutoring services, math lab, writing center).”

– Tarleton State University

“Advisors in the Academic Advising Office provide information about advising holds, registration holds, and upcoming workshops and events to students via text messaging. The financial aid office sends text messages to students informing them about financial aid deadlines, outstanding financial aid requirements, and other issues related to financial aid.”

– Texas State University 

Mentor Program

Mentor programs, where successful first-generation students who are upperclassmen or graduate students mentor underclassmen first-generation students, have become much more common among universities. These programs can be beneficial for first-generation students because they provide an opportunity to see a student like themselves successfully managing college and can gain insight from their mentor in a variety of areas.  The more first-generation students who can have a mentor, the better.  The schools that have mentor programs for first-generation students that include at least 30% of freshman students are:

 

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas State University
  • University of North Texas

Academic Engagement

The following universities scored best overall in the Academic Engagement Category:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Stephen F. Austin State University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • The University of North Texas at Dallas

Students per Academic Adviser

Limiting the number of students per academic advisor is essential in ensuring that FGLI students get the kind of support they need to finish their degree.  We asked the schools the number of academic advisors they have and compared that to the number of students enrolled at their university.  This gives us an approximation of how many students there are to each academic advisor.  The range was anywhere from 49 students to 637 students per academic advisor, with the average at 349.  This discrepancy leads to students at some schools getting much more academic support than students at others.  Experts recommend a ratio no higher than 300:1.  The Universities use a variety of models for academic advising, but the most common is a shared model where students are advised by professional academic advisors for a period of time and then passed on to a faculty advisor within the department of their major.  The schools that kept their ratio under 300:1 are:

  • Texas A&M International University
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • University of North Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas Permian Basin

Early Alert System

Early Alert Systems are automated systems within a university that automatically alert both the student and academic advisor if there is a problem with one of the student’s Alert Factors.  Alert Factors are anything that predict that a student is underperforming toward graduating on time, academic or otherwise.  The system notifies the advisor and student when events like a failed test, unpaid tuition, unpaid parking tickets, or a failed course occurs.  University-Wide Early Alert Systems have been proven to raise graduation rates and are especially important for FGLI students, because often times FGLI students have not been taught how to proactively advocate for themselves.  We asked the universities whether they have a university-wide early alert system with advisors trained in the system.  Thankfully, all universities that participated in the Report Card have adopted an Early Alert System.  Below are examples of ways that universities are using Early Alert Systems:

“Early Alerts are coordinated by Student Success Technologies. Faculty and Staff can alert a student for reasons such as attendance, academic concerns, food and housing insecurity, etc. Once an alert is issued, the student is contacted by the appropriate office to offer assistance.”

– Sam Houston State University

“UNT partners with EAB on a system called Navigate that has loaded 10+ years of historic UNT performance data to identify areas of opportunity to assist students as early as possible in their relationship to UNT. Student Affairs and Academic Affairs staff are trained in the system, and it captures not only alerts but also advising and engagement activities.”

– University of North Texas

Response to Early Alert

When an alert is sent out, it is important that the advisor or related department is required to respond to the student in a timely manner.  This requirement ensures that students are getting personalized reminders from a familiar source and are being held accountable for whatever issue they are facing.  The schools that require advisors to respond are:

  • Angelo State University
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Stephen F. Austin University
  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • Texas State University
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • University of North Texas
  • University of North Texas at Dallas

Mandatory Time Limit for Professors

Imagine as an FGLI student, taking a quiz or test in early September and not seeing your grade until late October or November?  Many ScholarShot students have notified their Academic Managers that this is a common occurrence at their universities.  Without knowing their grades, students are unable to take timely corrective action in their classes and can end up performing poorly on subsequent assignments, tests, and quizzes.  Of the schools surveyed, only Prairie View A&M University and Stephen F. Austin State University have a mandatory university-wide time limit for professors to return grades.  Both schools have time limits that are less than two weeks, allowing students to take the corrective action needed in a timely manner so they are successful in their classes. 

Financial Management

The following universities scored best overall in the Financial Management Category:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Tarleton State University
  • University of North Texas

Debt/Financial Education

Most universities have debt and financial supports available to students on a voluntary basis.  Many students, however, never utilize these programs and are left to figure out how to finance school and the cost of living on their own.  Students accept their financial offers from their universities online and in a matter of seconds.  An 18- or 19-year-old can sign off on thousands of dollars in debt, not knowing how much debt they already have, if the amount is enough to cover the next semester, or what their payment will be and when.  For the financial well-being of students, all universities should make a debt and financial education program mandatory for at least students taking out loans.  This issue particularly effects FGLI students since it is most likely to affect them in the long run, due to them having to take out more loans and having less resources to pay them back.  Having programs at the university to educate students on how their debt can affect them helps students make wise decisions when it comes to their financing options.  In the survey, we asked whether they had a debt management program that was mandatory to all students, students taking out loans, or no students.  While most of the schools have an optional or no debt education program, three schools have mandatory programs for students taking out loans including:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • University of North Texas
  • University of North Texas at Dallas

Meet with a Financial Advisor

As noted above, students taking out loans often do not understand the future responsibility they will have when they choose to take on debt.  Alongside that, students are often not aware of the grants and scholarships available to them, so they do not take advantage of them.  Many students do not accept their Federal or State grants when they would automatically be given funding, because they are not even aware they exist.  Requiring students to meet with a Financial Aid Advisor to plan out their financial path through college would remediate many of these issues, especially for First Generation students who do not have parents who went to college before them.  If students had a better plan for their finances throughout college, there would be less student dropouts and less students struggling to pay back their loans after graduation.  Currently, the only school who requires students to meet with a financial advisor before beginning school is:

  • Prairie View A&M University

While most universities are not yet mandating financial education and advisement, they are still doing a lot of positive things for their students when it comes to their finances.  Some examples from the schools are below.

“UTRGV Financial Aid Office required a high-risk cohort of FTIC students to attend a one-on-one loan counseling session with a financial aid loan coordinator in order to learn about their rights and responsibilities, managing loan debt and responsible borrowing prior to being awarded a student loan.”

– The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

“Each barrower is required to complete federal loan counseling every year.  Additionally, the FA Office works with UGST first year courses and the Career Center to provide student loan and debt workshops.”

– University of North Texas at Dallas

Emergency Funds

During their college career, many FGLI students face a temporary or unexpected hardship that is outside of their control, which often causes FGLI students to lose focus or drop out.  This year, 73% of the universities that were surveyed provide non-loan emergency funds to students due to a temporary or unexpected hardship.  It is important that all universities adopt an emergency fund in order to support their students in times of need.  The schools that fund these emergency requests at a rate of at least 85% are:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • University of North Texas

Financial Gap

A financial gap for a student entering college is the total cost of the university minus scholarship and grants awarded.  The smaller the annual financial gap for a student, the more likely they are to graduate and with a manageable amount of debt.  A large financial gap lends itself to students being overwhelmed financially during college and dropping out or graduating with a large amount of debt that will hurt their credit and take decades to pay off.  All colleges should be tracking and analyzing this gap and doing whatever they can to minimize it for the benefit of the students.  We asked the universities whether they track and analyze their students’ financial gaps and if so, what the average financial gap is for students.  This year, only two of  the schools both track and analyze the financial gap of their students and have an annual financial gap of less than $4,000 per year, allowing their students a better chance of graduating and with less debt.  These Universities are:

  • Tarleton State University
  • University of North Texas

Student Services and Interventions

 The following universities scored best overall in the Student Services and Interventions Category:

  • Texas Tech University

Probation Interventions

Once a student is placed on probation, their chance of getting off probation or graduating plummets.  To avoid students dropping out once they are placed on probation, it is important that universities intervene to give every student the best chance to remedy the situation.  Universities should have a universal response when students are placed on probation so that no student slips through the cracks.  The ideal response is for their academic advisor to immediately and personally contact the student to set up a meeting where they will create a plan for the student.  These plans will differ depending on the student’s situation, but likely include taking fewer hours, setting up tutors or other additional help the student may need, and ensuring that the student can be successful in their chosen classes as well as the major they have selected.  Following this meeting, academic advisors should frequently stay in touch with these students to ensure that the plan is going well and to suggest any adjustments.  Many of the participating schools already follow this protocol which helps students get off probation and on the road to academic success.  The universities were asked if they have a universal response to a student being placed on probation and how they respond.  Here are some of the ways that universities proactively respond to students on probation:

“Students who are placed on academic probation are required to participate in our academic coaching program. As a part of this program students must meet with peer success coaches, professional success coaches, and attend workshops on academic skill building and other positive student behaviors.”

– Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

“Students not in good academic standing – academic probation, academic warning, or readmitted from suspension students are required to meet with a SOAR advisor and follow a prescribed advising plan. The individualized plan will be designed to help each student improve their academic standing by addressing their specific needs including but not limited to identifying academic challenges, improving study skills, time management skills, addressing personal issues, and appropriate campus office referrals. The goal is to help students recover and reach their academic goals.”

– The University of Texas at Dallas

The schools that have a universal response, and the advisors are required to get in touch with the student and schedule a prompt meeting are:

  •  Angelo State University
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • Texas State University
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
  • University of North Texas
  • University of North Texas at Dallas

Dropouts in Good Academic Standing

Students drop out of college for a host of reasons.  In recent years, some universities have started tracking the percentage of students who did not return or dropped out but were otherwise in good academic standing.  In other words, these students were performing well in school but still forced to drop out for some other reason.  In Texas, our Report Card survey showed that as many as 72% of a university’s dropouts were in good academic standing.  The survey also showed that only  57% of our universities track this statistic. While this is up from previous years, tracking why students drop out should be required for all public universities as an FGLI Best Practice.  By tracking whether the student is in good academic standing at the time of dropping out, universities have the potential to counsel the student back into school to finish their degree.  It is also important to note the top reasons students drop out of school outside of their academic performance, which according to our survey are financial reasons, family and personal issues, and not feeling sufficiently prepared for college by their high school.  Schools were asked if they track the percentage of students who drop out in good academic standing and if so, what is the percentage of students who drop out are in good academic standing.  The schools that track their dropouts in good academic standing and have less than 20% of their dropouts in good academic standing are:

  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of North Texas

Mental Health Professional to Student Ratio

Publications like Psychology Today report that nearly half, 41.5%, of college students seek mental health resources on campus.  Having access to quality mental health is critical for FGLI students throughout their time in college.  If a student is mentally or emotionally stressed, then focusing on school proves difficult.  All of the schools that were surveyed do offer free mental health services to students, but the convenience and availability of these services vary.  Some schools have very high student to mental health professional ratios making wait times lengthy and availability limited.  The schools with a student to mental health professional ratio of less than 1,500:1, are:

  • Tarleton State University
  • Texas A&M International University
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of North Texas at Dallas

Mental Health Visits

Another challenge for FGLI students is that many schools limit the number of visits to on-campus mental health resources to as few as 1-2 visits before referring students to off-campus mental professionals.  Because many FGLI students lack the financial resources to afford going to an off-campus mental health professional, students are often no longer able to see a mental health professional, leaving them alone to deal with their mental health challenges.  The participating universities that on average allow students 10+ visits to on-campus student mental health before they are forced to go off-campus are:

  • Angelo State University
  • Prairie View A&M University
  • Texas A&M University-Commerce
  • Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Our Texas universities are working to improve the mental health of their students in a variety of ways.  Here are some examples directly from the universities:

“In addition to individual and group therapy, Counseling Services provide the campus community educational, preventative, and awareness based mental health presentations to the campus community.  Counseling Services also provides all members of the ASU community access to a 24/7 Crisis Helpline, and partners with PsychHub, which is a free self-help platform.”

– Angelo State University

“Given the advances in telehealth that have resulted from the pandemic, both the Counseling and Health Centers have committed to offering a telehealth option for all appropriate services going forward. This will increase access for students who are on-line only or commuter students who have limited time on campus, as well as students who may have challenging schedules due to any number of reasons. Additionally, students from some traditionally underserved communities may find telehealth services to be less intimidating, thus increasing the likelihood of accessing these supports in the first place.”

– Sam Houston State University

[1] Psychology Today, Stephanie A. Sarkis Ph. D, Expect Increased Anxiety and Depression in College Students, August 31, 2020.