MAP-Works surveys connect freshman students with resources

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The School of Undergraduate Studies will invite UT freshmen to participate in the first in a series of surveys Wednesday meant to identify freshmen struggling with the transition from high school to college.

The surveys, called MAP-Works, are part of a third-party program to improve retention rates by identifying at-risk students, said Patricia Micks, undergraduate studies first-year experience coordinator. Once the program identifies at-risk students, Micks said it will notify the students’ advisors and support staff. The School of Undergraduate Studies, the department funding the survey, estimates it will pay $88,000 based on the freshman class size of 8,100 — the largest yet at UT. Some survey questions are about academics, but others ask about roommates, activities and family issues, Micks said.

“We want to work with the students early on to be sure they feel like the UT community is another home for them,” Micks said. “It’s meant to be an early intervention to help students before they’re in trouble.”

Micks said 98 percent of UT freshmen return after fall semester and 91 percent after spring. She said this rate was good, but if MAP-Works can improve the retention rate by even 1 percent, many students would be affected at a school this size. She said in its six years of use by other universities, the program has improved retention rates by 1 to 10 percent.

“What MAP-Works tries to do is what we already do, and that’s connect students with resources,” Micks said.

Micks said she has been enlisting resident assistants, Freshman Interest Group mentors, undergraduate studies professors and academic advisors to encourage their cohorts to use the optional surveys as tools.

The school pays for every enrolled freshman regardless of participation.

Freshmen Interest Group mentor Ginu Scaria said she plans to point her students toward the survey.

“It’s a good way to connect with students and see how they are doing,” Scaria said. “If there’s a problem you can’t deal with, you are able to send information to someone who can help them in a better way.”

As a PEER mentor, Scaria will not have access to much personal information but can submit reports to advisors and track her students’ survey completion. Scaria said MAP-Works might be more helpful to students who are not in close contact with their mentor.

Heather O’Leary, a principal analyst for Eduventures, a higher education consulting firm, said universities care about identifying struggling students early because administrators have made an investment and want to ensure student success. O’Leary said personal responsibility is important, but struggling students may not be aware of all of the resources available to them.

She said the program would be a good way to make the most of investments UT has already made in student support and to potentially identify gaps in resources.

“I would actually be really interested to see in three or five years down the line the kind of impact this program has on the students and the retention rate overall,” O’Leary said.

Printed on Wednesday, September 26, 2012 as: Surveys aid freshmen in college transition