THECB grant to help Broncs master two gatekeeper courses
Posted: 06/13/2012
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The University of Texas-Pan American recently received a $175,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to establish interventions to help improve student success in higher education.

A $175,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to UTPA will go toward designing interventions that will improve student success rates in two gatekeeper courses - College Algebra and General Chemistry.
UTPA was among eight institutions announced as 2012-2013 Comprehensive Student Success Program (CSSP) awardees. The CSSP is part of the THECB's College Access Challenge Grant funding provided by the United States Department of Education. Twenty-four institutions applied for the funding.

The grant to UTPA is designed to improve the success of first-generation Hispanic students in freshman level courses - referred to as gatekeeper courses - that are difficult for students to pass through interventions that target student engagement, said Dr. Kristin Croyle, vice provost for Undergraduate Education in the Division of Academic Affairs.

Croyle, who is the principal investigator of the grant, said institutional data from Fall 2010 identified MATH 1340 (College Algebra) and CHEM 1301 (General Chemistry) as the two gatekeeper courses with the highest D,F, and withdrawal rates, with overall success rates in these courses (grades of C or better) at only 45 percent and 50 percent, respectively. Student enrollment in these courses is roughly 88 percent Hispanic and 52 percent first generation.

Stage one of the planned interventions will target student engagement through student outreach, including a state-of-the-art early warning system in which faculty identify students who are showing early signs of failure and individualized academic coaching for these students.

"The academic coaching will be directed to difficulties that are going to impact students' ability to succeed in the course like poor attendance and time management, not turning homework in on time or at all, or not being aware of or using resources available to assist them, like tutoring," she said. "These are not really problems related to math or chemistry content but they can certainly destroy students' math and chemistry grades."

Croyle said for help in math and chemistry content, students can already turn to faculty or several tutoring resources readily available to them on campus. The academic coach will help struggling students connect with and utilize these resources.

The academic coaching role will be headed by Mark Burson, professional guidance counselor in the University Academic Advising Center. The project co-directors will be Nam Nguyen, math lecturer, and Dr. Chris Smith, assistant professor of chemistry. Mauricio de León, who led UTPA's Developmental Education Demonstration Project also funded by a THECB grant, will be the CSSP coordinator.

Stage one of the CSSP will commence in certain sections of the two courses in Fall 2012.

Beginning in Spring 2013, stage two of the interventions will target student engagement through improved teaching by creating a professor development program that will include individualized assessment of teaching strengths and weaknesses, targeted professional development and individual mentoring. Student assistants who will be available during the course to improve the faculty-student ratio will also be provided through the CSSP.

"We want to work with faculty to improve the way students are intellectually turned on during class," Croyle said. "It is important that we individually develop this because each instructor is different and each class is very different."

Dr. Jessica Raley, assistant professor of communication, will oversee the assessments, which will note student participation in class and other indicators of student engagement during the courses. She will also oversee the professional development of the faculty after the assessments are completed.

"We know our students can pass these classes and we need to do all we can to support their success. We may find that students don't understand why they are taking the class and the relevance of it to their lives or that some of our first year students are having difficulty transitioning to a university environment and the level of self discipline it requires. We hope that our academic coach will create a bridge to keep the students engaged in the course and connected to the resources around them to help them ultimately succeed," Croyle said. "If this test is successful and we can really make a difference in the pass rate based on this approach, it could certainly be expanded to other faculty, departments and programs."