ScholarShot believes that the following Best Practices should be implemented at all universities in order to improve the engagement and outcomes for first-generation low-income(FGLI) students. Below are highlighted the universities that are exhibiting Best Practices identified by the Report Card survey. This is not a comprehensive list of all the Best Practices that the universities were asked about in the survey, but indicates the sort of academic, financial and support engagements that are necessary to improve degree completion and outcomes for FGLI students.
Academic Advisor to Student Ratio
As mentioned, the majority of FGLI students do not know how to advocate for themselves. This, combined with a very high ratio of university students to academic advisors at most universities, make it very difficult for FGLI students to be engaged with academic support. Universities which have invested in their academic advising capacity have made access for FGLI students better, and, conversely, those who have not, have made this critical support harder to obtain. Having a lower ratio allows advisors to meet with students regularly so they are able to really understand each student’s needs. The Report Card survey returned five schools that had the lowest (below 200:1 student to advisor ratio) and thus the best academic advisor to student ratio. These universities were University of North Texas at Dallas, Lamar University, Texas Southern University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
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 our 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. Out of the 28 schools surveyed, only The University of Texas at Arlington and West Texas A&M University have a mandatory time limit for professors for returning grades. Both schools have time limits that are less than two weeks, allowing students to take the corrective action on a timely basis in order to be successful in their classes.
100% of Classrooms Using an Early Alert System
Early alert systems are a unique way for universities to note if a specific student is missing classes, performing poorly, or trending in a negative way. Virtually all the universities have classroom automation systems, however, this best practice means they are intentionally leveraging these systems to alert the professors or academic advisors before a student is failing or on the verge of failing. This notification gives academic advisors and professors the chance to notify and work with the students so that corrective action can be made in a timely fashion. This is particularly important for the FGLI student population. The Report Card survey returned that only Midwestern State University, Stephen F. Austin University, The University of Texas at Arlington, and West Texas A&M University are using an early alert system in 100% of their classrooms.
At ScholarShot, we have the opportunity to get to know the students before they begin classes through their application, interview, and meetings. Universities have an opportunity to get to know their students as well by surveying their incoming freshman classes through the use of surveys like BCSSE (Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement), the CIRP Freshman Survey, or a university-specific survey. These surveys ask questions ranging from student study habits and experiences to their home and personal situations. Used correctly, these surveys identify students who need extra academic, financial, and emotional support from the start. Because the BCSSE and CIRP surveys are taken globally, they allow universities to compare their results to their peers. The universities that have used either the BCSSE or CIRP in the past five years are Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas Southern University, Texas State University, the University of Texas at Arlington, the University of Texas Rio Grande and the University of North Texas at Dallas. More important is how the universities use the surveys to support FGLI students. In order for the surveys to make a real difference in student outcomes, they need to be used to identify students who need remediation or academic support and to assign support resources to specific incoming students. Only two universities use their survey results in this way, which are The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and University of North Texas at Dallas.
Mandatory Debt Management
Most universities have a debt management or 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 debt or financial counseling mandatory for FGLI students receiving public funding. The Report Card survey returned only the following seven universities as having mandatory debt management programs for all students taking out federal loans: Midwestern State University, Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M International University, Texas Woman’s University, The University of Texas at Arlington, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.
Often during the year FGLI students face a temporary or unexpected hardship, outside of their control, which can easily cause an FGLI student to lose focus or drop out. More than half 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 these students in their time of need. The schools that fund these emergency requests at a rate of at least 50% are Lamar University, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M International University, Texas A&M University- San Antonio, Texas Southern University, The University of Texas at Arlington, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of North Texas, and West Texas A&M University.
Debt Cap Policy
None of the public universities in Texas currently have a specific debt cap policy in place. While there is a federal debt cap in place for undergraduate students at $31,000 for dependent students and $57,500 for independent students, that amount often takes decades to pay off and leaves FGLI students in a credit-unworthy position when they leave school. If used correctly, university specific debt caps would provide grants or other non-loan sources of funding to help FGLI students reach graduation at or below the university’s cap. Since 2010, the national student debt has grown 800% from $200 billion to $1.6 trillion, 43% of which is either behind or in default. In order for universities to have a debt cap, they need to be willing to use their endowment and grant money to make up the gap in funding for many students. While none of the Texas universities have a specific debt cap, we strongly encourage them to consider implementing such a policy to support the outcomes of FGLI students.
Student Resources on Probation
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. At ScholarShot, students who are placed on probation are required to have additional counseling with our Academic Managers and are encouraged to take additional steps at their university to improve their grades, such as one on one tutoring and foundational coursework. Requiring these extra steps typically results in students’ grades rising and them being taken off of probation. For students on probation, universities should require similar academic and resource triaging to keep students from dropping out. Of the schools surveyed, the following universities require academic counseling with other steps for students on probation: Lamar University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas A&M University-Central Texas, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University- Kingsville, Texas A&M University, San Antonio, Texas Southern University, Texas State University, Texas Tech University, The University of Texas at El Paso, The University of Texas Permian Basin, University of Houston-Clearlake, University of North Texas, University of North Texas at Dallas, and West Texas A&M University.
Tracking Students Dropping Out
in Good Academic Standing
Students drop out of college for a host of reasons. In recent years, 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 but still dropped out. In Texas, our Report Card survey showed that as many as 85% of a university’s dropouts were in good academic standing. The survey also showed that less than half of our universities track this statistic. It should be required for all of our 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. The Report Card survey showed the following universities are tracking this statistic: Lamar University, Midwestern State, Texas A&M – San Antonio, Texas Southern University, Texas State University, Texas Tech University, University of Texas at Arlington, University of Texas at Dallas, University of Texas at El Paso, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas. Of the schools tracking the percentage of students dropping out in good academic standing, the following reported this statistic below 20%: Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi, Texas A&M University- San Antonio, Texas Tech University, University of North Texas, and University of North Texas at Dallas.
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 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 weight times lengthy and availability limited. Another challenge for FGLI students is that many schools limit the number of visits to on campus mental health resources to as few as 1-3 visits before referring students to off campus 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. The following schools have lower than a 1600:1 student to mental health professional ratio and provide students with at least 10 visits to on-campus mental health resources before they are referred to an outside provider: Angelo State University, Tarleton State University, Texas A&M University-Commerce, Texas State University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, University of North Texas at Dallas, and West Texas A&M University.