2017 Midterm Fall Letter

Dear Faculty and Staff,

This fall, we welcomed more than 4,900 first-year students, 4,000 transfer students and many new graduate students onto our campus. Each of these new students came to UNT entrusting us to be a partner in helping them fulfill their dreams. It is now our job to help teach, coach and mentor these students so they can achieve their dreams.

As you may have heard, retention is a critical conversation for us this year. We’ve made tremendous progress on our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate in recent years, increasing to roughly 78.1 percent in 2016-17. In addition, our transfer retention rate is at an all-time high of 77 percent. Our progress was fueled by a number of efforts, including increasing our number of advisors while providing more training and support for them, implementing three-point advising for our students, promoting registration earlier, adding new sections for waitlisted courses, an early start bridge program, student mentoring, and many college-level efforts.

Yet, we are still losing too many students. It’s important to know that of those students who leave us in the next year, only a third of them will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree elsewhere.

Of the students who started as first year and transfer students this year, nearly 2,000 of them will not return next fall – if we have the same retention rate as last year. That’s 2,000 students whose dreams we weren’t able to help realize. It is not just students who struggle who do not return, 10% of first year students with a GPA greater than 3.0 do not return to UNT.

While we would like to retain all of our students, we are striving to move the bar forward by retaining at least 85 percent of them. To make this happen, it will take everyone working together. Each 1 percent increase in retention is 88 additional students who stay in school. If we increased our retention rate to 85 percent, that would translate to more than 600 students who would be able to achieve their dream of earning a bachelor’s degree.

We are a caring community that wants to see all students succeed. I’ve seen this first hand in my interactions around campus the last few months. And as we work together to tackle this challenge, think about the impact that you can have on just one student.

We all have a role in helping our students succeed and ensuring that they stay at UNT to complete their degrees. Retention is in part about relationships. When students have strong relationships, they feel more connected to UNT, more supported by their faculty and staff, and are more likely to persist – to earn those degrees. I ask all of you to reach out to a student and check in with them. Find out how they are doing and see if there is anything you can do to help.

There are many ways, big and small, that every faculty and staff member can help students succeed.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Ask for a retention training for your office or department. To talk through your needs and request a tailored presentation, contact Harold Woodard, director for strategic retention initiatives, at 940-565-2997 or Harold.Woodard@unt.edu.
  • Ask a student if they have registered for their spring classes. Registration is open now through Jan. 8. Registering early helps students secure a schedule that will work best for them and sets them up to stay on track for timely graduation. It also benefits departments in projecting and adjusting for bottleneck and course demands.
  • Look out for struggling students. As we come to the middle of the semester, this is when some students begin to struggle.
    • Consider offering an optional review session for students who can use extra help.
    • Reach out to students who are missing class and find out if they are facing challenges.
    • Send an encouraging email asking a struggling student to meet with you during office hours so you can find a way to help.
    • If you see that a student is showing signs of undue stress, make sure they know about campus resources. The Counseling and Testing Office provides resources (group counseling, workshops, individual therapy, etc.) to help students who experience changes in behavior, social interactions and are struggling in other areas.
  • Let students know that we all struggle and need extra help from time to time and encourage students to take advantage of the resources available to them. Some helpful places for them to start might be:
  • Provide a positive customer service experience. If you get a request for help that you can’t provide, please help the student by getting the answer they need or showing them how to find the answer they need. If you have time, take the student to their destination. They may not know where to go and they will be grateful you helped them along.
  • Keep important numbers and contacts handy. There is an abundance of information to help students on our resources page for new students – it covers everything from registering and attending classes to having fun and adulting.
  • Take advantage of services offered by CLEAR. One of the best ways to keep students engaged is through innovative teaching. CLEAR offers workshops and consultations to help faculty modify courses. They have plenty of ideas for how your teaching can support student retention. See the fall calendar and visit the CLEAR website for more information.
  • Consider a grade of Incomplete for a student who is unable to complete the coursework due to unforeseen challenges. Starting Nov. 13, a student may request an Incomplete if requirements are met. Sometimes students don’t realize this is an option and fail a course rather than request an incomplete.

Bottom line, know that our students want to succeed. Our students are human and make mistakes, but our support can help them be successful. I know all of you want our students to stay and succeed as much as I do.

Please share with me your stories of student success. Let me know about a student who will return this spring thanks to your caring efforts.