A checkup call from the top

Valuable student support measure or a bit of a gesture?

In addition to spending what must be a huge amount over the past few months on advertising in the trade press, Boston University has undertaken another big investment, according to The Boston Globe, checking up on new students:

With new students wrapping up their first month on campus, school staff and administrators, including the provost and dean of students, spent the week calling all 4,300 first-year and transfer students, an ambitious gesture designed to make them feel at home.

“It’s about community,’’ said Kenneth Elmore, the university’s dean of students. “We want students to know we’re here to help.’’

Many administrators and researchers applaud the school for reaching out to students during the pivotal first semester, a time when they are at greater risk of falling behind and dropping out. Nationally, just 57 percent of full-time students at four-year colleges graduate within six years.

‘It’s about community. We want students to know we’re here to help. . . . We tell them we’re here to help them steer their course.’

“The most productive thing you can do is focus on the early experience,’’ said John N. Gardner, the head of a North Carolina institute that works with universities to improve student retention. “If they go unnoticed and unaddressed, academic problems can become severe.’’

I do think this is quite a good idea, particularly with the low completion rates referred to here. And it is undoubtedly the case that the early experience is particularly important. However, in isolation, one ‘phone call will not be sufficient and does need to be just a part of a larger student support package. Would it work in the UK? Or would it be seen as a bit an empty gesture?

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