Nebraska-Omaha wants better results for indecisive students

Omaha University of Nebraska students who have enrolled without declaring a major or who do not wish to continue the course of study they initially chose are no longer referred to as “uncontrolled” students with an “undeclared major”. Thanks to the relatively new programs at the university, they no longer occupy a gray area of ​​the academy – students take courses without a defined plan of study and there is no direct path to the degree.

The university’s Exploratory Studies program, now in its second year, gives these students a more formal and supported opportunity to find out what they want to study. The program aims to retain them in the process and increase the graduation rate.

The program sometimes goes beyond academic counseling and counseling Many institutions typically offer such students and instead provide them with an “academic home,” said Tammy Kennedy, director of the Exploratory Studies program. The program includes a compulsory course of exploratory study, full-time faculty who have mentors, small class and advisor-to-student ratios, and peer mentoring by students who have already gone through the program.

Program administrators say such targeted efforts will work well for students admitted without a clear vision of their preferred course of study and for those who leave college without earning a degree.

Part of the process is to see and treat these students differently, Kennedy said. Sometimes referring to them as “undeclared” or “undeclared” creates a negative perception of them in the academic community. These terms also influenced students’ perceptions of themselves.

“It simply came to our notice then. They have decided to go to college. They are now ‘explorers’, “Kennedy said.” The name change was for the benefit of the students, to give us an identity and not to be a big positive thing. “

The program is available to students for three semesters, and the compulsory course emphasizes “happiness” as an important factor in choosing a major, says program coordinator Kim Cassisa. It helps students consider different major and career options and introduces them to “interdisciplinary ways of looking at your life.”

The program even provides emergency funding to students who are at risk of dropping out due to financial reasons.

“We want to provide a matrix to help them find the most suitable major,” Kennedy said.

Although the program is only in its second year, administrators have ambitious plans to expand it. Their ultimate goal is to increase the graduation rate of student participants from the current 8 percent to 20 percent. Re-enrollment by Exploratory Studies students increased 4 percent in the fall of 2021, one year after the program, according to figures provided by the university. What’s more, of the 152 students surveyed in the spring semester that ended last month, 87 percent said they chose a major or are close to choosing one, and 86 percent said they felt confident they would graduate.

Kennedy said between 800 and 1,000 students প্রথম first-time students, transfer students, and students who have changed their minds about their declared major-enter the program each year. Many of them are first generation or low income students or both, he added. The challenge these students often face in getting used to college is complicated by the fact that many come with little or no understanding of what they wanted to do after entering college.

The idea of ​​redesigning undecided students is almost three decades old. North Carolina State University’s Exploratory Studies program began with the creation of a first-year college, an initiative to assist students without a declared major. Purdue University started a program in 1996 that now serves about 1,000 first-year students with unannounced majors. The principles of different programs are basically the same দিন provide guidance and academic support to students so that they can retain their grades and find a major that matches their interests and professional goals.

Linda Gregory, executive director of Purdue’s Exploratory Studies program, said students are encouraged to take the test: “How do you want to see your future? Are you valuable, how do you want to work, where do you want to work?”

Purdue’s program includes a three-credit first-year course, access to academic advisors, and a low student-to-advisor ratio. It’s a four-semester program, but Gregory says students often announce a major in the second or third semester.

Like his colleagues at other institutions, Gregory believes that a change in terminology about such students is important. He said the “stigma” of being called “unannounced” or “undeclared” is real and goes back to the last year of high school for many students.

“This is an entrance; It’s not a back door, “said Gregory, referring to the program to join Purdue.

According to figures provided by Purdue, the retention rate for first-year students in the program was 87.5 percent for the 2020-21 academic year, and the four-year graduation rate for students who opted for the program before admission was 75.5 percent for the university as a whole. The six-year graduation rate for program participants was 83 percent, compared to 77.4 percent.

Gregory said he has talked to administrators who are either starting such programs, who have recently started them and want to expand them, or who are considering starting them.

“Many of them have the right motives and they want to provide services,” he said, adding that such programs instead serve as a “temporary place” for those who are not enrolled in a program of their choice or a university course.

Kennedy noted that he saw other universities as being the same size or larger than Omaha’s Nebraska University.

“You can get some extra help; Your advisor is available to you, ”he said. But those other programs do not have faculty members from other departments teaching exploratory study classes. The faculty members of his program are trained in mentoring and, like many other programs, make themselves available to students many times more than a handful of times per semester. He said faculty members train peer counselors to work primarily as teaching assistants.

Kennedy said the program is now more accessible than in the first year, after administrators determined that students did better by helping only faculty and peer advisors rather than individual advisors.

“I think in year two, we kind of found our sweet spot,” he said. “In our first year, we were guessing. We were making it from scratch. It’s really starting to get tough. “

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