It’s one thing to get into college. It’s another to get through and earn a degree. To help students stay on track, UCF is launching two new programs this semester. One program is aimed at helping students think about graduation as early as orientation, and the other is geared toward preventing students from going off track.

There’s also a new program in development to use Big Data to give academic advisors more tools to help students.

The university already offers a variety of resources and services to help all students from academic advising to UCF Cares, a referral desk for academic and non-academic services available on and off campus.

Think 30

New to the arsenal of resources this semester is an education campaign called Think 30 , as in completing 30 credit hours a year. Taking that many credits each year enhances the chances that a student will earn a degree in four years.

“We’re encouraging students to complete 30 credits each academic year,” said Jenna Nobili, who is leading the campaign. She is an academic advisor for the Office of First Year Advising and Exploration. “We know 30 credits a year may not work for every student, but we want students to start thinking about their personal graduation goals from day one, so they can stay on track.”

Students can spread their credits out throughout the whole year, including summer sessions. Or they can increase their load one semester to make time to work in an internship or study-abroad opportunity another semester.

There’s another incentive to thinking about goals early: It will save students and their families’ money.

“We don’t want students graduating with a lot of debt,” Nobili said. “That’s why part of this education campaign also includes financial-literacy education and a strong recommendation that students speak to their academic advisor regularly.”

By finishing sooner, students can pay less tuition. And if planned properly, students can avoid excess credit-hour fees. That’s the legislatively-mandated policy that says that if students exceed the number of credits necessary to obtain a degree (about 120 credits for most majors) by more than 10 percent, they have to pay double tuition for each credit hour past the limit.

Jonell Gregor, a mechanical engineering major, thinks the campaign is a good idea because as a freshman, you’re not always thinking about graduating

“I know sometimes we come to college thinking it’s finally time for us to make our own decisions and figure out the person we want to be and sometimes we forget that the main reason we are at school is for academics,” Gregor said. “Sometimes we don’t think about the end goal for our academic career, only our personal lives and growth which causes us to not be as diligent on following our suggested guidelines for our major.”

Gregor is on track to graduate in December – four and a half years after starting at UCF, which is considered on track for Mechanical Engineering, one of the UCF majors that exceed 120 total credit hours. She took 15 credit hours both semesters her freshman year because she heeded strong recommendations made during orientation and she wanted to get involved in campus activities such as a sorority, Catholic Campus Ministry, and Knight Camp. But she agrees a campaign that reinforces the message to keep the end game in mind is a good one, especially to avoid unnecessary costs.

By September and early October, the campus will be plastered with banners, fliers and buttons that implore students to “Think 30.” There will be ads in the student newspaper and emails to students.

Knight Watch

While Think 30 is launching, Stephen O’Connell, director of First Year Advising and Exploration, is gearing up for Knight Watch. This program is aimed at the “murky middle,” the student population, which after their first semester in college has a grade point average between 2.0 and 2.59.  While they aren’t on probation, they could be if grades continue to decline the following semester.

That GPA range is a warning sign, said O’Connell. So he and his team will make contact with all those students identified before the start of their next semester to check in with them. The students will get an email and if they don’t respond, will next get a phone call urging them to talk to their advisor.

“We want to talk to them to find out what happened,” he said. “Was there a problem? Was the course combination too intense? Did they have a personal issue that interfered with their studies, whatever the problem is we’ll advise and refer them to resources they can utilize to make the next semester more successful.”

Students will also be reminded of things they may not consider when their GPA dips. For example, financial aid – such as Bright Futures Scholarships – are contingent on maintaining certain GPAs.

“Students often don’t think about that until after the fact,” O’Connell said. “We don’t want them surprised, so Knight Watch is about trying to intervene early and get them the help they need to stay on track. We want our students to be successful and make good decision.”

The program has been in the works for two years and O’Connell hopes to expand it in the next few semesters to provide more student support.

Big Data

Another initiative just getting started is a push to make better use of Big Data.

“We are starting the semester with a new university-wide program that harnesses the power of predictive analytics,” Provost A. Dale Whittaker announced in an email earlier this week. “This new program is called the Education Advisory Board Student Success Collaborative, and it will help us turn transactional data into actionable insight.”

That means advisors, faculty and student support staff will be able to see in real-time which students need intervention and access a powerful set of data-driven tools to guide academic and career advising.

Online dashboards, under development, will work with existing advising tools, giving advisors a 360-degree view of each student and alerting them if a student is at risk of not performing well in his or her current or planned coursework. The new tools also will help faculty and staff direct at-risk students to support services available across the university and help advisors follow their progress.