Annual Meeting Insights: Empowering students through financial aid literacy; Mentorship program improves retention; A holistic approach to international student success

August 23, 2013
  • AACRAO Connect
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation

The following are summaries of three sessions from this year's Annual Meeting.

Empowering students through financial aid literacy 

The popularity of financial aid literacy initiatives at colleges around the country should come as no surprise to anyone that follows statistics on the number of students who borrow to pay for college. At the Annual Meeting in San Francisco last month, Debbie Below from Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) reiterated some of the more eye-opening facts about financial aid”such as Pell Grant disbursements increasing from $5.8 billion in in 1976 to $34.5 billion in 2012.

According to Below, facts like this underscore the importance of implementing financial aid literacy initiatives. These initiatives must be consumer-driven, informing audiences on what they need to know versus what they want to know about financial aid and their borrowing options. Focusing on four main groups “ pre-college, first-year, academically at-risk, and pre-graduation/in repayment students “ SEMO has developed an Evolving Committee with representatives from every administrative branch of the university to drive comprehensive policy action.

These initiatives include informing students about the need for concentrated career research (facilitated by the Focus 2 career assessment tool), using early-warning systems to identify and advise academically at-risk students, connecting loan repayment education to career counseling, and using institutional and state funds to staff Certified Financial Planners for student counseling. The effort involves increased collaboration and communication and the results, according to student feedback, have been empowering. The next step, she says, is to integrate transfer students more fully into this system.


Students Assisting Students to Transition Successfully

Heather Eckstein, director of first year programs at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, discussed her university's growing PEERS mentor program at this year's Annual Meeting.

PEERS stands for Pitt Encouragement and Educational Resource Specialists. PEERS are nominated during the first semester of their freshmen year to apply for a mentoring position in their sophomore year. Mentors are accepted based on academic history and current standing, references from nominator/s, and a short essay from their applications. PEERS mentor incoming students enrolled in the fall Freshmen Experience course. 

Once accepted, mentors are required to enroll in a one-credit training course in the spring of their freshmen year where they: learn to illustrate the role of a peer mentor; gain the knowledge and skills to help students transition to university life; identify factors that affect the high school to college transition; identify ways to develop appropriate mentoring relationships; and examine self-awareness and how it relates to effective peer mentoring. Mentors keep a journal throughout the course, and they share experiences with their classmates.

“They really grow from each other’s experiences,” Eckstein said. “They are all mentoring each other. They listen to each other, and help resolve each other’s challenges. That’s an amazing conversation, and I let them have it. If they can walk though it and discover it for themselves that’s great.”

Mentors must: maintain a 3.0 GPA; lead 10 minutes of the Freshmen Experience class once per week; and develop, promote and implement out-of-class engagement activity. Such activities might include tie dying, volleyball games, or getting ice cream and a movie. “It’s nice because they see each other outside of class,” she said. “That helps them establish a relationship.”

In addition, mentors must present at least one module selected by the Freshmen Experience instructor from a prepared list provided by the PEERS advisor. œIt helps them take responsibility for the course on a deeper level,┬" Eckstein said. Other mentor responsibilities include: attending all class meetings, completing all course assignments; and actively seeking and nominating candidates to be future PEERS mentors.

Between fall 2009 and fall 2010, PEERS were assigned to eight sections of the Freshmen Experience course, and there was a 7 percent higher retention rate in those sections with mentors than the non-mentor sections. “That’s 140 students,” Eckstein said. “It’s important to understand the financial implications of this.”

On average, the retention rate for students in the Freshmen Experience courses is 2 to 3 percent higher than for students in the sections without PEERS.


A holistic approach to international student success

Successful enrollment of international students can have a large economic impact on a campus, and help an institution reach its enrollment goals and improve cultural diversity on campus.

At the AACRAO Annual Meeting, Mike Zhang from Johnson & Wales University presented a session on how the institution is working to make the international student population a success”for individual students and to enrich the university experience for all its students.

In academic year 2011-2012 JWU enrolled the most foreign students in the state of Rhode Island. Most undergraduate international students enrolled came from China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia. JWU faced numerous difficulties in recruiting and enrolling international students, which included language barriers, culture shock, lack of adequate preparation for academic learning at the institution, need for financial assistance and challenges adjusting to American life. To address these issues, JWU developed ESL programs, orientations and scholarships for international students and created faculty sessions to educate faculty members on international student needs. In developing proactive measures to handle academic and learning challenges, JWU adopted a holistic approach to creating opportunities for international student success.

By: AACRAO Connect



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