PETM's Sophomore Outreach boosts midcareer student retention

INDIANAPOLIS -- The IUPUI School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, or PETM, saw an increase of 17.2 percent in its junior enrollment this spring compared to the same time last year. The improved retention rate is a result of introducing its Sophomore Outreach program in early 2017 and is a key step toward improving on-time graduation.

Freshmen frequently benefit from extended orientation programs, first-year seminars and staff dedicated to enhancing the first-year experience. But there is a misconception in higher education that second-year students know how to "do college." Those students therefore receive fewer support services specific to their needs.

At PETM, faculty and advisors helped create the Sophomore Outreach program to keep students from getting behind in their academic progress and, as a result, reduce their chances of graduating within four years.

"Our faculty had a big role in helping us create this program," said Jana Renner, senior academic advisor in the school. "Some classes have a lot of prerequisites, and students can't move forward in their program unless they complete all of those. It was nice to start meeting with these students prior to their last two years to make sure they're on track and ready to go on to their last couple of semesters."

To achieve on-time degree completion, academic advisors review prerequisite classes with students and assist them with course planning. They also identify potential obstacles to degree completion and evaluate students' ability to pursue postgraduation plans based on academic history and experience. Students are not permitted to register for classes until they have met with their advisor.

To reduce barriers to degree completion and improve career readiness, advisors also provide student-specific recommendations for professional and personal development workshops. They also encourage meetings with assigned faculty mentors with industry experience. Workshops, hosted by PETM and others on campus such as the Division of Student Affairs, focus on topics such as finance, research opportunities, networking and internships, and they can be completed in person or -- new this year -- online.

The key is making contact with students before it's too late.

"We haven't seen some of these students since orientation or their first-year seminar," Renner said. "It's important to check in with them and see what their career goals are beyond classes: 'What are your career goals? Have they changed? How can we help you be prepared when the time comes, either going to graduate school or getting a career?' What can they do in their last two years to make themselves a candidate once they graduate?"

After the first round of the program, more than 80 percent of students reported a better understanding of the prerequisites for their major, while more than 95 percent stated that they now had an attainable graduation plan, understood the impact of not completing key prerequisites on time and felt better able to pursue their intended postgraduation plans.

A total of 172 students, or 92 percent of the cohort, completed the Sophomore Outreach program in its first year. Another 165 students will participate this spring.

"We're hoping to start seeing that influence the graduation rate, which we can definitely improve, I think, across the board on campus," Renner said. "We'll be able to see those numbers next year because the students from last year are juniors, and next year we'll see if they're able to graduate within that four-year timeframe.

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