MANSFIELD - The first few weeks at college are the hardest for freshmen. How they make the transition often means the difference between succeeding or leaving.
Mansfield University is combining technology and people power to help flag students having problems and reaching out to help navigate successfully through those first weeks.
Using Map Works, a survey software program, Ruth Hermansen, associate director for Student Life-Student retention and Andee Dunham, associate director for Student Life and Transition surveyed freshmen four weeks into the semester. "Over 90 percent of the students filled out the survey," Hermansen said. "That kind of response rate is phenomenal. It gave us a good, detailed picture of our freshmen during these critical first weeks on campus."
From left are Ruth Hermansen, associate director for Student Life-Student Retention, Andee Dunham, associate director for Student Life and Transition, Chris Bridges, associate vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students.
The 100-question survey also gives staff a sense of the combination of issues an individual is facing, said Dunham. "We can tailor our response to each student and provide individualized support," she said.
Finally, when a student's response is combined with the results of mid-term grades, "We can pinpoint high risk students and the type of assistance they need," Chris Bridges, dean of Students, said.
Most students leave or fail for one of three reasons.
The first is personal, Bridges explained. "They're away from home for perhaps the first time in their lives. They're homesick, adjusting to a new environment."
Financial considerations are important. Most Mansfield University students are first generation college students. Their parents are families are making sacrifices to have them in college. Students feel a sense of pressure.
The third reason, of course, is academic.
"Students no longer have the structure of home and high school," Dunham said. "They have to learn time management and study skills. For most students, it's the first time in their lives they're on their own."
Hermansen and Dunham identify freshmen who need assistance as well as the type of assistance needed and contact the students. "This year the administration has really beefed up the program," Hermansen said. "We have two staff members dedicated to this time of transition and we're backed up with support teams and professionals around the campus. It creates a large, multi-faceted organization that can help freshmen with nearly any problems they might encounter."
If students make the transition to college and persist, the payoff is big.
According to the spring 2012 results of the Graduating Student Survey, 94.3 percent of students were either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall education and 93.3 percent felt the same way about their education in their major.
Nearly 88 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their overall Mansfield experience. More than 80 percent said they felt a sense of belonging at Mansfield.
Nearly 75 percent felt they were prepared for work or a career.
"Mansfield University has always been about being small and personal," Hermansen said. "Now, with the technology and the staff resources we're in an excellent position to help our students succeed both personally and academically."