UT’s new ‘portal colleges’ emphasize student retentionWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
All students starting at the University of Toledo this fall will enter through a “portal college,” a new program linking students to success coaches and emphasizing retention.
Portal colleges are part of UT’s strategic improvement plan “Imagine 2017,” designed by Scott L. Scarborough, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.
Kaye Patten Wallace, senior vice president of the student experience, said that portal colleges are part of a university-wide effort to improve retention.
“We are focused on retaining students. We want them to know we care about them so we’ve revised the way we provide support. It’s a university-wide initiative; it’s not just one department,” she said.
In fall 2010, UT had a rough beginning to the semester where students were waiting in long lines for services, Wallace said. UT began to look at research that showed students often leave college because they feel the college doesn’t care or offers poor service.
Wallace said her responsibilities were increased to further examine the student experience, both in and out of the classroom, after that semester.
Retention is important because it’s something that factors into state funding and parents value retention rates, Wallace said, adding that she believes the first year and especially the first semester are key to retention.
Jonathan Strunk, director of communications, said UT’s retention rate for first-year students who attended UT in fall 2011 and returned in fall 2012 was 62.4 percent.
There will be five portal colleges, Wallace said. Students out of high school go into either the Honors College Portal, for well-prepared students, or the University College Portal for regularly prepared or underprepared students.
The other portals are for online students, graduate students and adult students.
The portal colleges will “own” students’ first-year experience, Wallace said. UT’s First-Year Experience program used to be responsible for the first-year transition and Jennifer Rockwood, director of that program for eight years, will be transferred to the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Strunk said.
Strunk said while there will likely be other changes to different departments, no personnel terminations are anticipated.
“We are going to be looking at utilizing talents. No service is going away,” Strunk said, adding that portal colleges also integrate services better.
To start off, each portal college will feature one success coach per 600 students. The success coach will be the point person for questions that arise in areas like billing and student life. They will also be proactive in reaching out to students, Wallace said.
Students will still have academic advisers who will work in tandem with success coaches.
Wallace said that UT is in the process of developing training for the future success coaches.
“We’re looking for people who are sensitive to student needs and understand students are customers and are looking for an overall experience when they approach college,” Wallace said, adding that the success coaches should have master’s degrees.
Portal colleges are also a result of student feedback, Wallace said. When asked if programs developed by the First-Year Experience like Crib Notes, which brought guest speakers into dorm settings, or the Iron Chef Competition would be brought back, Wallace said that depends on student feedback.
“We’re always open to seeking student input and then we create and develop programs,” she said.
The exact number of success coaches and hiring timelines have not been finalized, but jobs will be posted at www.utoledo.edu/depts/hr/.