Best Practices

 

ScholarShot believes  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 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 most schools are using the best practices correctly, there are likely certain practices at the universities not used correctly or at full capacity which could explain a gap between the best practices they claim to use and the universities’ outcomes.  Each university has different strengths and weaknesses, but here we are focusing on the strengths that help contribute to better outcomes for FGLI

Covid-19 Response

The following universities scored best overall in the Covid-19 Response Category:

Texas A&M University-San Antonio
Texas Woman’s
University of North Texas

Covid-19 Communication

During Covid-19, communication from the schools to the students about Covid-19 and any changes to campus operations is of the utmost importance.  Open and frequent communication helps students stay safe and gain support from their school.  We measured how often and how many forms of communication schools are using to communicate with students about Covid-19 and the consequences that it has had on campus.  Frequency is important to keep students up to date, while multiple forms of communication are important to ensure students are receiving the information.  The following schools communicate with students at least multiple times a week about Covid-19 and used three or more forms of communication: Stephen F. Austin State University, Sul Ross State University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.

Covid-19 Surveys

Surveying students about their needs during Covid-19 allows the schools to not only figure out which supports may be necessary across the board, but also to fill any important individual needs that students may have.  We asked schools which of the following needs they were surveying students about: Tutoring, Academic advising, Mental health counseling, Mentoring, Financial aid, Food Availability, Housing, Computer availability, Internet availability.  As well as how often they were surveying students and how quickly they were responding to those student needs.  The following schools survey students weekly, about at least 7/9 needs, and respond to the student within at least 48 hours: Tarleton State University and Texas Woman’s University.

Work Study during Covid-19

Maintaining a work study job throughout college can be one of the most important factors in determining whether FGLI students will graduate.  Work study jobs provide an income and a sense of responsibility outside of academic work for students.  With Covid-19 being a particularly difficult time financially for many students, we asked schools if they were able to maintain, increase, or decrease the numberwork study jobs during Covid-19.  Only The University of Texas at Tyler was able to increase the number of work study jobs available to students during Covid-19, but many schools were able to maintain the work study jobs already in place pre-Covid-19.

Covid-19 Supports

During Covid-19 it is more important than ever for schools to have academic, financial, and mental health supports available for students to ensure that they are able to successfully progress toward graduation.  These supports need to be available online so that they are accessible for students who choose to learn remotely during this time.  We asked schools whether they had the following supports available for students virtually: Tutoring, Academic advising, Mental health counseling, Mentoring, Financial aid advising or assistance, and Job placement assistance.  We also asked the schools whether the availability to these supports had remained the same, increased, or decreased and whether the supports were free to the student.  The following schools had all of the supports available for free and online and the availability of all supports has increased or remained the same in all supports: Sam Houston State University, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Texas at Tyler, The University of Texas Permian Basin, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.

Covid-19 Study Areas

Having a quiet place to study is important for any student to excel academically.  During Covid-19, many FGLI students have been living at home where there can be distractions of younger siblings or family issues that make it difficult for students to focus on their studies.  These students need a quiet, safe place to study at their university to avoid the distractions at home.  We asked the universities if throughout Covid-19 they have had quiet study places like libraries or other common areas for students to use available and which of the following precautions were being taken in these common areas due to Covid-19: masks must be worn at all times, masks must be worn in busy areas, temperature checks, handwashing or hand sanitizer requirement before entry, or other precautions.  The following schools had quiet study areas available for students and were using at least 3 precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19: Angelo State University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, The University of Texas at Arlington, and University of North Texas.

Healthcare during Covid-19

For many FGLI students, the Student Health Center at their university is the only reliable place where they can receive healthcare due to a lack of insurance or an inadequate policy.  During Covid-19, it is even more important that students with or without insurance are able to access healthcare on campus.  All of the schools who participated do offer students’ healthcare at the Student Health Center during Covid-19 with the exception of Texas Tech and Texas A&M University-Central Texas.

Community Supports

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

Prairie View A&M University
Texas A&M University-Commerce

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.  FGLI students often do not have an older adult in their lives to guide them through the college transition, which makes it difficult to make a successful transition into college.  FGLI students who go through Summer Bridge Programs have a higher success rate of staying in school and ultimately graduating.  We asked schools whether they have a fully funded Summer Bridge Program for at-risk students, what percentage of identified at-risk students are able to participate.  If they have a Summer Bridge Program for at-risk students but it is not fully funded, we asked schools to provide the cost per student.  The following schools have a fully funded Summer Bridge Program for at-risk students during the Summer before their freshman year: Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas Tech University, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.

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 similar students and receive extra supports for their unique challenges.  We asked the schools 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.  The following schools have Living-Learning Communities with supportive programming for these often-underserved groups of students: Angelo State University, Midwestern State University, Prairie View A&M University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Sul Ross State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at San Antonio, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.

Text Message Communication

With young people utilizing text messaging to communicate now more than ever, it is important 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.  It also gives schools the opportunity to communicate with parents or adults in the students’ lives so that they are aware of any important information like registration deadlines, financial aid information, and student performance.  The majority of the schools that participated in the survey do use text messaging as a way to communicate with students with the exception of Angelo State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, The University of Texas at Permian Basin, The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Mentor Program

Mentor programs, where successful first-generation students who are upperclassmen and graduate students mentor underclassmen first-generation students, have become much more common among universities. These programs can be beneficial for first-generation students by providing an opportunity to see a student like themselves successfully managing their courses and gain insight from their mentor in a variety of areas.  The more first-generation students who can have a mentor, the better.  The following schools have mentor programs for first-generation students that include at least 30% of freshman students: Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-San Antonio and The University of Texas at Arlington.

Academic Engagement

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

Prairie View A&M University
The University of Texas at Arlington

Students per Academic Adviser

Limiting the number of students per academic adviser 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 advisers they have and compared that to the number of students are enrolled at their university.  This gives us an approximation of how many students there are to each academic adviser.  The range was anywhere from 114 students to 743 students per academic adviser.  This discrepancy leads to students at some schools getting much more academic support than students at others.  Five universities kept their student to adviser ratio under 200:1, which means that students at these universities were able to get more support from their advisers than at the other schools.  These schools are: Prairie View A&M University, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas Permian Basin, and University of North Texas at Dallas with Texas Tech keeping it the lowest at 114 students to one adviser.

Early Alert System

Early Alert Systems are automated systems within a university that automatically alert both the student and academic adviser if there is a problem with one the student’s Alert Factors.  Alert Factors are anything that predict a student is underperforming toward graduating on time, academic or otherwise.  The system notifies the adviser and student when events like a failed test, unpaid tuition, unpaid parking tickets, or a failed course occurs.  University-Wide Early Alert Systems help 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 advisers trained in the system.  Thankfully, most participating universities have adopted an Early Alert System with the exception of Sul Ross State University and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Response to Early Alert

Ideally when an alert is sent out, both the adviser and the student are required to respond to the alert with a sense of urgency by setting up a meeting to discuss how the Alert Factor is going to be resolved.  It is important that both parties respond because it bestows onto the student a sense of responsibility for their own college success.  While many of the participating schools require the advisers to respond to the alerts, only Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, and Texas A&M University Commerce require both the student and adviser to respond to alerts.

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 Scholars 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, Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Arlington have a mandatory university-wide time limit for professors to return grades.  All three 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:

Tarleton State University
Texas A&M University-Central Texas

Debt Program

Most universities have a debt management or debt counseling program 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 program and financial counseling mandatory for all students receiving public funding, especially FGLI students since it is most likely to affect them in the long run.  Having programs at the university to educate students on how their debt can affect them and requiring them to meet with someone from the financial aid office to discuss their financial options, helps students make wise decisions when it comes to their financing options.  In the survey, we asked whether they had a mandatory debt management program for all students, students taking out loans, or no students.  We also asked whether students taking out loans are required to meet with someone from the Financial Aid Office.  The following schools require all students or students taking out loans to attend a debt management program and require all students taking out loans to meet with someone from the Financial Aid Office: Midwestern State University, Sul Ross University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Emergency Funds

During their college career, many FGLI students face a temporary or unexpected hardship outside of their control, which often causes FGLI students lose focus on their studies or drop out.  More than half of the universities surveyed provide non-loan emergency funds to students due to a temporary or unexpected hardship.  It is important all universities adopt an emergency fund to support their students in times of need.  The schools that fund these emergency requests at a rate of at least 85% are Stephen F. Austin State University. Texas A&M International University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, and University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Financial Gap

A financial gap for a student entering college is the total cost of the university minus grants and expected family contribution.  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.  The schools that track and analyze the financial gap and have an annual financial gap of less than $5,000 per year, allowing their students a better chance of graduating and with less debt, are Tarleton State University, Texas A&M-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, and University of North Texas

Student Services and Interventions

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

Texas A&M University-Kingsville
The University of Texas at San Antonio

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 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 no student slips through the cracks.  The ideal response is for their academic adviser to immediately and personally contact the student to set up a meeting where they will create a plan with the student.  These plans will differ depending on the student’s situation, but likely include taking fewer hours and ensuring the student can be successful in the classes and major selected.  Following this meeting, academic advisers should frequently stay in touch with these students to ensure 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.  The following schools have a universal response and the advisers are required to get in touch with the student and schedule an imminent meeting: Angelo State University, Midwestern State University, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M International University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas A&M University-San Antonio, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Texas at Tyler, and 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 68% of a university’s dropouts were in good academic standing.  The survey also showed that less than half of our universities track this statistic, which 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, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and University of North Texas.

Mental Health

In August 2020, Psychology Today reported that 39% of college students reported moderate to severe anxiety and 53% reported moderate to severe depression.[1]  Having access to quality mental health services and professionals 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 surveyed schools 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 1,000:1, in order from the smallest number of students to mental health professional to the most, are Texas Woman’s University, University of North Texas at Dallas, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and Midwestern State University.  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, Sul Ross State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-Kingsville, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at Tyler, and University of Houston-Clear Lake.

 

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