Investment in Academic Success is Key to Student Retention and Engagement
MURFREESBORO, NC – Chowan University’s fall 2016 enrollment of 1,534 students was the largest in school history since returning to four-year status in 1992. The current semester also boasts record-breaking spring enrollment numbers, with an increase of 1.8 percent over last spring's record. This is the third consecutive spring the university has set an enrollment record. Year over year enrollment has grown by 97 percent since 2003, resulting in the University's ranking as 13th fastest-growing private nonprofit baccalaureate institution in the nation by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2016. Chowan secured its place with an enrollment increase of 116 percent during the last decade. With this enrollment growth comes campus growth, academic growth, as well as the growth of academic support services.
University administration doles a great deal of credit to Academic Success in terms of the increases in retention and engagement of Chowan students. The four-woman team is a powerhouse of acceptance, caring, and investment in the daily lives of students. Adopting an, “if you feed them, they will come” attitude, the offices of Academic Success are frequently filled with delicious smells and treats. But it’s the hearts and souls of the student body that are truly fed.
Syble Shellito, Director of Academic Success, is the leader of this little band. She sets the tone for the entire endeavor, a tone that is decidedly accepting, inclusive, and nurturing. “Our philosophy is that every student has potential and we can find a way to unlock it. We will try everything to figure out how to get through,” she says. “We show them that we value who they are, there is never an attack on who they are.” She keeps a large binder filled to overflowing with every thank you note and card she has ever received from a student, to remind her of why she does this work and how much it matters.
As Academic Advising Coordinator, Yevette Anthony is often the bridge between students and faculty, working to get students into and out of the right classes. “Advising is teaching,” she says, “and I am co-learner with each student.” She seeks to foster critical thinking, help students develop their problem-solving, and give a greater sense of responsibility. She emphasizes each student’s agency and autonomy. “I challenge students to defend their choices and connect the dots between their personal goals and their educational goals,” she says. “I serve as a guide for students as they discover their own direction and the path they wish to travel.”
Jacquelyn Bates and Libby Whitaker are Academic Success Coaches. They each have certain students that they work closely with, depending on their credit status and progress. They work with students on time management, self-advocacy, and goal setting. “Our office really focuses in on the mission and vision of Chowan,” Bates says, “giving a second opportunity to students who would not get one otherwise.”
“The key is being genuine,” Whitaker adds. “They know that we really love them.” Each of them can cite multiple, specific examples of students whose lives were transformed or redirected in the matter of a few encounters. Their sincere belief in the value and potential of each student, is a critical component. Each day, at each moment, they are focused on helping one student at a time — the student right in front of them. Which means each student they meet with, at that moment, is the most important student on campus. And it shows.