It’s all in a name, and the newly launched Academic Success Center at Texas A&M University is about to make a name for itself. A collaboration between Academic Affairs and Student Affairs, with the full support of the offices of the president and provost of the university, the Center was created to help students identify roadblocks to academic success, provide them with access to free comprehensive resources and help them achieve their highest possible academic potential.
There have always been numerous resources in place at Texas A&M to help undergraduates achieve academic success. “But what became apparent,” says the Center’s first executive director and assistant provost for undergraduate studies James Kracht, “was that many students were either unclear about how to find them or failed to take advantage of them. For those who used the resources, there was no way to monitor or measure results.”
Ann Kenimer, associate provost for undergraduate studies, adds: “Over the past two years, numerous groups from across campus have worked to develop a holistic model that will provide students centralized access to the many resources available to help them succeed, while also providing them an individualized plan to achieve success.”
No two Aggies are alike, so the Academic Success Center — located on the second floor of the YMCA Building — is designed to identify and address individual needs. That means that highly successful students who want to improve a 3.25 GPA in order to get into medical school or ROTC colonels who want their students to have higher GPAs to be competitive in their profession are just as much candidates for the Center’s services as students who are coming up against roadblocks, falling behind and need help getting back on track.
“The barriers that keep many students from reaching their maximum academic potential often extend beyond the classroom,” adds Kenimer, “and include factors such as being away from home, uncertainty about their major, or dealing with family, job or financial responsibilities.”
That’s why the individualized action plan is so critical. After an online assessment, each student will meet with one of the Center’s outstanding scholastic performance specialists to develop an individualized action plan. Referrals will be made as needed for either more intensive academic support services or for specialized student services. The performance specialists will meet regularly with each student to help them realize their action plans, and individual progress will be monitored. Texas A&M faculty, deans, department heads and academic advisors will be engaged throughout the process.
In the course of making the Center a reality, Kracht and the working group had the opportunity to explore the analytic systems that have been developed across the country to track student performance, especially some of the early warning/intervention applications that have been developed at several universities. “We were able to take what was best from many of these data-mining tools and adapt and personalize them to fit what we wanted to achieve at Texas A&M,” says Kracht.
“Without being as invasive as some of the programs we looked at, we will definitely be monitoring individual student performance and encouraging students to pursue their action plans. Faculty will be interacting with our students to let them know they’re engaged. Research shows that when there is active involvement, such as a “˜heads-up’ email from a professor or dean, that academic engagement and performance actually goes up. Engagement promotes success,” states Kracht.
The Center is about more than just monitoring and intervening. As Kracht points out, “We want this to be a positive experience for Aggies. We are determined to build students’ capacity to be successful by encouraging them to commit to being successful. We know that once that commitment is made, students can engage in building the skills and doing the hard work that is necessary for success, both at Texas A&M and in the future.”
“It’s been very exciting to see the various parts of this come together,” adds Kracht. “We knew we needed to find an inexpensive solution to combining our campus resources into a more cost-effective and efficient entity. We knew that solution had to align with our QEP and Aggies Commit. We knew it had to hold all of us — students, faculty and staff — accountable. And, we knew we needed to help our students graduate in a reasonable amount of time without accumulating a mountain of debt.”
For that reason the Center will work closely with the office of Scholarships & Financial Aid to track students who may be getting in too deep in terms of the student loan debt they’re accumulating. The Center will work to distinguish between those who are in good standing academically and clearly making sound decisions in terms of their career path and those who are frequently changing majors, delaying graduation and who might really benefit from counseling.
The Center also will be equipped to help students with general study skills, such as test preparation and time management. “We made an extremely efficient adjustment,” states Kracht. “We hired Lyle Swack, the study skills guru at the Student Counseling Center, and greatly expanded his capacity to see more students by utilizing his expertise at the Academic Success Center. We also brought in Joel McGee from the Student Learning Center who has the expertise to lead the development of our data base and analytics systems.
“We’ll also be doing a form of career counseling, the kind that goes hand-in-hand with choosing the right major. We want to stop the wandering that often takes place when students can’t determine what their real aptitudes are. In the end, getting on the right track will help them graduate on time without accumulating massive student loan debt.
“My goal is that if we see 1,000 students per semester, at least 850 are back on a solid academic track by the end of that semester,” says Kracht.
“Ultimately, our collective vision for the Academic Success Center is that it makes a significant positive difference in the lives of our students. We want them to have mastered the necessary learning strategies to earn their degrees from Texas A&M and enter the workforce as productive members of society.”
Or, as Karan Watson, provost & executive vice president for academic affairs, puts it: “Our efforts are to make sure that if you get in, you get out with a degree, in a timely fashion, with low debt.”