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CCU colleagues earn best practices in student retention award from national consortium

November 29, 2021
Debbie Conner, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in the Spadoni College of Education and Social Sciences, and Daphne Holland, Ph.D., assistant vice president for student success initiatives.

A case study cowritten by colleagues at Coastal Carolina University recently earned the Best Practices in Student Retention Award during the 2021 National Symposium on Student Retention, which explores the latest evidence-based research on post-secondary retention and graduation. Receiving the award were Daphne Holland, Ph.D., assistant vice president for student success initiatives, and Debbie Conner, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor in the Spadoni College of Education and Social Sciences, along with Mary Fischer, M.Ed., CCU’s former director of the Academic Coaching Experience Department, who is now the associate director of the advising center at Western Carolina University. The trio cowrote A Case Study for the Successful Development and Assessment of a University-Wide Academic Recovery Program for First-Year Students.

The research highlighted in the case study is based on efforts of the University’s Student Opportunity for Academic Recovery program, which is an extension of the Coastal Student Success Center.

According to Holland, the case study examines Coastal Carolina University leadership’s call to action to address low retention rates for first-year students. It also provides a roadmap to develop, implement, and assess a successful University-wide academic recovery program for first-year students, including updating a probation policy, creating course curriculum, developing a comprehensive academic recovery program, and creating an academic coaching department to support students reactively and proactively through meaningful intervention.

Holland said this multifaceted approach to an academic recovery program reported significantly positive results for students who successfully completed the program from its initial implementation in Fall 2018. Positive results were also reported for students that participated in, but did not successfully complete the program. A comparison between participants and non-participants from Fall 2015 to Spring 2021 was used to support program effectiveness by reporting student GPA, retention, and academic standing.

“Winning this award completely validates all the sleepless nights, long work days, and endless meetings during the past five years that went into creating a successful and thriving student success center,” said Holland. “Having the opportunity to co-author this paper with Debbie and Mary made the process rewarding and bittersweet. We, along with the help and dedication of IRAA [Institutional Research, Assessment, and Analysis] and other campus partners, saw the Coastal Student Success Center through from concept to reality and never gave up on the main goal of helping students find success in their personal and academic lives.”

Conner said, “We talk a great deal about ‘theory informing practice’ in educational leadership in the Spadoni College. This paper and the award show that CCU is a leader in the nation using theory to inform our practice to better serve our students. This award brings national attention to a program that should and can be adapted at other institutions as a best practice.”

Alexa Cecil, academic coaching specialist, and Jessica Fokken, Ph.D., who now serves as the director of CCU’s Academic Coaching Experience Department, were the first two academic coaches hired at CCU in 2018.

“The support we provide to students is instrumental in helping them transition to and through college successfully,” said Cecil. “We work on skills with students, such as time management, how to read to understand, and how to break down large assignments, that are essential to being successful not only in college but in their personal and professional lives. While our actions may sometimes seem small, the impacts they have on students can be extremely significant in terms of supporting the students and helping them be successful.”

“I’m so proud of the students who have come through this program,” said Fokken. “I think of the students we’ve worked with who overcame academic challenges, of course, but also those students who overcame personal challenges, developed their confidence, and learned to believe in their own ability to be successful. We are also teaching students that it is okay to ask for help, and that there is someone on campus ready to be that support. And if we aren’t what they need, we will help them find the office that is.”

The symposium was hosted by the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange, a group of two-year and four-year institutions dedicated to achieving the highest levels of student success through collaboratively sharing data, knowledge, and innovation.