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Project Title:Best Expectation Programs (BEP): Retaining At-Risk StudentsInstitution Name:Western Kentucky University (WKU) Innovation Category:Retention/Completion Project Director:Jessica G. Staten, Assistant Director, AARC, or Alisha Smith, Coordinator, Retention Programs, AARCContact Information:(270) 745-5065, jessica.staten@wku.edu, alisha.smith@wku.edu, Website:http://wku.edu/bep
Project Description:The Best Expectation Programs (BEP) aim to equip a diverse undergraduate student population with the necessary resources to improve academic performance—ultimately, to help retain and graduate at-risk students. BEP works with students individually to identify realistic academic goals, teaches students the importance of positive study habits and time management, and provides academic support to help students be independent and successful learners. STEPS (Success Through Evaluation, Placement, and Support), one of the BEP programs, is designed for first-year, first-time students with low ACT/SAT scores. These students are required to attend six hours of study hall each week, take developmental/supplemental Reading and English courses, attend monthly Peer Intrusive Advisor appointments, and attend two Academic Advantage Series: Workshops for Success each semester. Peer Intrusive Advising (PIA), an integral component of BEP, facilitates at-risk students meeting with Peer Intrusive Advisors who are successful undergraduate students trained to be intrusive (asking students about coursework and grades, checking current grades online with the student).  
Objectives:
  • Decrease the number of students required to participate in a retention program by increasing students’ GPA and academic standing
  • Increase retention and persistence rates of participating students
  • Foster the growth of the student population by employing qualified student staff and facilitating  ongoing training sessions
  • Increase awareness of the Best Expectation Programs
Outcomes:
  • The number of students required to participate decreased 27%.
  • 54% of participants had semester GPAs above 2.0.
  • Peer Intrusive Advisors (student employees) received monthly training.
  • Presentations were made to various campus organizations to educate and increase awareness of the retention programs. 
Challenges/Problems Encountered:The most challenging aspect of this program are students’ willingness to actively participate. It is necessary for designated staff to be vigilant in reaching out to students for every retention event. Students are notified three times (via email) for every event, workshop, and meeting they are required to attend. We also follow up on a daily basis (via email and phone) with any student not meeting program requirements. For STEPS participants who are required to participate, there are issues related to the consequences of non-participation and the need to provide adequate notification to students in order to satisfy legal and ethical concerns. For PIA, there are challenges of maintaining a large enough staff and manageable case loads for each PIA.  
Evaluation Approach:Each student who participates in the Best Expectation Programs (BEP) and attends the third and final Peer Intrusive Advising appointment is administered an online survey and subsequently composes a reflection paper. After all students have taken the survey, results are compiled and reviewed. A qualitative approach is taken to search for recurring themes, consistencies, and outlying cases. These data are then used to make decisions about the students’ needs in future university retention efforts. The Assistant Director of Supplemental education is responsible for assessing this program.  
Potential for Replication:In order to replicate this program, universities should consider the student population, needs of those students, and financial resources available to fund the project. Determining a strategy for targeting at-risk students and tracking their academic progress are critical. Before beginning a retention program, the following questions should be asked: What will the consequences be for non-participation? Is there sufficient support by upper-level administrators to enforce the consequences of non-participation?   
CEO-to-CEO Contact:Gary A. Ransdell , Presidentpresident@wku.edu
(270) 745-4346
Date Published: Monday, April 4, 2011