In its infancy, University program aims to increase its retention rates

Access to Success was created after the demise of the General College.

LAURA WALLENTA

A program for students whose high school grades and test scores would not normally grant them admittance to the University of Minnesota has retention rates that are lagging behind the rest of the University. After its pilot year, the Access to Success (ATS) programâÄôs retention rate stands about 8 percent behind the overall University rate for first-year students. The ATS program, which is two years old, was developed after the demise of the UniversityâÄôs General College in 2006. The program is designed to assist students whose high school records indicate âÄúa potential for success, but whose high school rank and test scores alone may not.âÄù Factors indicating a potential for success may include extracurricular activities or examples of leadership. A significant number of military veterans and athletes are included in the program, and 60 percent of the participants from the College of Liberal Arts are students of color. The programâÄôs goal is to provide access to traditionally underrepresented Minnesota students, which stems from the former General College mantra, said Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. The average retention rate for first-year ATS students during the 2008-09 academic year was 82.9 percent, whereas the overall University retention rate was 90.7 percent. The rate comes from the three colleges that participate in the program: CLA, College of Education and Human Development and College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences. CLAâÄôs ATS program had the highest retention rate, with 84.8 percent. While the number is lower than the University-wide statistic, ATS directors are pleased with the results. âÄúIt is a tremendous accomplishment and is something to be proud of for a program in its pilot year,âÄù Andrew Williams, ATS coordinator for CLA, said. In its first year, ATS has already surpassed the typical General College retention rate, which was less than 80 percent, McMaster said. The program also provides an opportunity to boost graduation rates, McMaster said, and the class of 2012 graduation will be a significant point to measure. ATS differs from the General College because it grants greater access to University resources for students admitted into the program, Williams said. The program requires students to meet with their adviser four times during the course of the academic year. In ATS there are approximately 150 students to each adviser, which Williams said is a significantly better ratio than the rest of the University. Students in the program are assigned a peer mentor, with whom they are expected to meet six times during the academic year to discuss classes, resources and any struggles students donâÄôt feel comfortable approaching their advisers about. John Ruekert, a sophomore peer mentor for the CLA program, was admitted into the ATS program as a freshman. He said he appreciated the support his mentor provided. âÄúIt was nice to have someone to look up to and have advice for what it takes to succeed,âÄù Ruekert said. âÄúIt inspired me to better myself and improve the program.âÄù Williams said that a large number of ATS students have emerged as campus leaders through extracurricular activities such as athletics and the marching band. Some are preparing for medical school. âÄúAcademically, you canâÄôt stereotype our program because a significant number arrive with college credits,âÄù Williams said. While all three ATS programs are designed for the same reason, each has different curriculum structures, but all first-year students in ATS programs must take one or more preparatory courses in order to graduate. The different ATS programs have different structures based on the different needs of its collegeâÄôs students, but Williams said the program is still in its infancy and will continue to evolve in terms of class selection and course flexibility. âÄúIt is important for the University to represent the population of Minnesota as the state grows, and our ATS program supports that,âÄù stated Williams. Overall, ATS aims to close the gap between the University-wide retention rate and its own. âÄúI see this as an incremental project,âÄù McMaster said. âÄúEach year we want to improve all aspects of ATS.âÄù