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Chelsea Martin, Hannah King, and David Powers, Owensboro Campus, Western Kentucky University

Martin, King & Powers. jpgWestern Kentucky University (WKU) Owensboro is one of three regional campuses supported by the Bowling Green, Kentucky main campus.  WKU Owensboro offers upper-division courses, serving primarily junior and senior undergraduate transfer students who have completed their first two years in an Associate Degree program.  This unique makeup creates reliance on the local community colleges to provide a public four-year education in the region and produces a different set of challenges.  One way that the staff at WKU Owensboro has found success is to strategically use all resources available rather than searching for the single silver bullet solution to challenges.  This arsenal approach allows student engagement in a distinctive way from the beginning of their experiences with WKU in the areas of recruitment and pre-admission advising, through retention and graduation, and beyond as community members.

Recruitment

WKU Owensboro serves nine Kentucky counties and eight Indiana counties with 92% of transfers coming from the Kentucky Community and Technical College (KCTCS) system (WKU IR, 2016a).  That large of a region means that a single silver-bullet approach is not feasible, and multiple people are needed in the arsenal to bring students to the university.  WKU Owensboro has invested in a hybrid position of academic advisor and recruiter who spends time on campus in Owensboro and the main campus in Bowling Green, but the majority of their time is spent at one of the four partner community colleges in the region: three from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) in Henderson, Madisonville, and Owensboro as well as Ivy Tech–Southwest located in Evansville, Indiana.  While on site, the Academic Advisor/Recruiter is responsible for pre-admission advising, reviewing transfer equivalencies with students, delivering class presentations, hosting workshops, and collaborating with other WKU staff with events such as high school campus visits and education fairs around the region.

Academics are not the silver bullet of our success, however.  Included in the arsenal is WKU Owensboro’s identification as a career campus and our pride in how we emphasize hands-on educational experiences.  The Administrator of Career Services and Workforce Development also spends time on the local community college campus as part of pre-admission services including resume building experiences and participation in the career planning process prior to WKU enrollment.  Another large part of this second position is soliciting feedback from the community, workforce, and regional industries on their needs and recruiting their employees and administrators as potential students.  The identified needs drive program and course offerings and supplement enrollment numbers each semester.

Retention

After working with pre-admission services, students are able to plan their next two or three years at the partner school and WKU in a way that considers their individual needs.  Many students choose to participate in WKU’s Joint Admission program, allowing them to be admitted to their partner school and WKU at the same time with all of the rights and privileges of each including academic advising, academic record transfer, and securing a catalog term.

Since WKU requires academic advising every semester, the advisors are able to help work experiential learning and internships into a student’s academic plan whenever possible, an example of how we use our arsenal in a single setting.  A focus on internships and other experiential learning opportunities is part of a strategy to demonstrate the value of higher education and its role in a prepared workforce.  Professional development programs such as DLI (the Dynamic Leadership Institute) and the EDGE (Economic Development through Guidance Education) Program prepare students with the leadership and soft skill development that employers desire.  The DLI program has also been offered to local businesses and industries as a corporate training program with the goal of exposing employers to student training programs, demonstrating the services this campus offers, and highlighting the skills and training that graduates receive throughout their degree program.  These programs and supports are not stand-alone successes (or silver bullets) but a part of the arsenal that we employ to target student retention.

A staggering 72% of the Owensboro campus student population attend part-time and 56% of the total enrollment are online (WKU IR, 2016a).  Therefore, most students may not spend as much physical time on the campus as a traditional residential undergraduate, so the faculty and staff have had to find innovative and effective ways to reach these students.  By providing services such as proctored testing, leadership training, an on-site Student Services Coordinator (serving military students, accessibility services, volunteering, and student organizations), a career and workforce development office with a full-time position and graduate assistant, and an on-site Financial Aid Counselor, WKU Owensboro is able to aid the students who are en route to WKU as well as currently enrolled at WKU.  By working so closely together as a cohesive team and providing alternative course times, multiple mediums of course delivery, and flexible schedules for staff members the retention for this campus is one of the highest in the WKU system.

Beyond Graduation

Once a student persists through graduation, it becomes important to make sure that they are securing top-notch positions in the region.  Having former students leave at graduation and go straight into the workforce—many programs such as elementary education and social work see employment rates that meet or exceed the average—or into rigorous graduate programs mean graduates become the best recruiters for the Owensboro campus.  They share their experiences and encourage friends, family, and colleagues to explore the possibilities of furthering their education, push current students to persist, and cultivate more graduates who remain active and engaged alumni, adding to our arsenal.  Because we are able to have so many touch points with students throughout their potentially short time with us, we are able to foster the relationships that are long-lasting and impactful.  WKU Owensboro hosts two large-scale events each academic year, the Fall Football Family Fun Night and the Spring Grill-n-Chill Cookout.  Current students, their families and friends, students who attend a partner school, and alumni of WKU are all invited to attend each event.  This allows for relationships to be built among future students, current students, and alumni.

Beneficial for All

The arsenal approach and method has been successful in a variety of ways.  First and foremost, it is beneficial to the students.  This arsenal is applicable to each type of student on campus: honors students, transfer students, those seeking their first degree to start a career, those seeking additional education for career change, and all associate degree earners coming from the partner schools.  Even better, it makes a four-year degree a much more attainable endeavor.  For the majority of the students in the region, a four-year education is not financially feasible.  Even with federal aid, the cost of attendance (tuition, books, room, board, fees, etc.) is more than the working class in this service area can afford.  This partnership model of community college and a public university permits more affordable tuition and the flexibility to work while attending school (night classes, online classes, etc.).

As a staff and regional campus, this method is also beneficial in three major ways.  First, it keeps everyone on the same page.  Recruitment and advising reach out together to pre-advising appointments and extend through feedback on job placement.  Second, there are consistent conversations and meetings with faculty and staff from regional partner schools to solicit feedback and keep communication channels open.  Sometimes that is unofficial coffee relationships where the touchpoints are lighthearted and relational as well as more formal meetings to hash out important topics.  These relationships translate to consistent messaging to students, faculty, staff, and the community and allow for a constant theme of employment throughout each part of the cycle and in each service offered.  Third, the theme and consistence allow a culture creation of “Start Here, Finish Here, Stay Here” where students are encouraged to take advantage of the 2+2 options and to seek employment in the region.

Moving Targets

As successful as this model has been for the Owensboro Campus, there are a few moving targets.  These limitations include: the need for more data (cohort tracking for retention and graduation rates); the inability to apply this model to all size campuses; the physical location of the campus in a city with multiple competitors (two additional regionally accredited four-year universities, one nationally accredited medical training facility); the ever-growing online market from local dual credit to national competition and the cost differences associated with those offerings; the internal competition of a significantly larger main campus just 70 miles away with a larger selection of programs and course offerings; and the limitation of having only two years available to implement career development plans for the students where most plans can and do take the traditional four years.  The Owensboro campus is always seeking ways to advance and be trendsetters, as well as finding ways to combat the many challenges faced as it progresses towards the goal of raising the percentage of baccalaureate degree holders in the county another 5%-10% in the coming years.

Conclusion

WKU and others across Kentucky are the midst of experiencing major budget cuts and financial shortcomings.  Many higher-level decision makers may not understand the importance of a satellite, branch, or regional campus to its service area or realize the percentage of the university’s overall population provided by these campuses (WKU’s Regional Campus network makes up 15% of the overall student total [WKU IR, 2016b]).  The challenges and additional level of difficulty that these two circumstances bring when layered on top of each other provide an impetus where there has been a critical examination of everyday practices and identified ways in which the campus is excelling in its unique situation.

Our consistently high levels of recruitment, retention and graduation are supported by the arsenal approach of a multi-departmental involvement in student success.  While an arsenal approach is easiest to implement at a smaller campus, we have found success in larger campuses by creating cross-campus partnerships and conversations that center around combining services for student success.  This approach can be implemented with an evaluation of how resources are being used and determining if those allotments could be adjusted for minimal to no overlap. This approach requires constant communication and assessment so we are not letting our resources and energy overlap to the extent of being wasteful. Using this approach to utilize all aspects of campus function in different ways has allowed for more productivity, better results, and no additional cost to the university—no new offices, professional positions, programs, or titles—with funds still available to support important intern or student worker positions.

Chelsea Martin
Academic Advisor
Owensboro Campus, Western Kentucky University
Chelsea.Martin@wku.edu

Hannah King
Academic Advisor/Recruiter
Owensboro Campus, Western Kentucky University
Hannah.King@wku.edu

David Powers
Administrator of Career Services and Workforce Development
Owensboro Campus, Western Kentucky University
David.Powers@wku.edu

References

King, H., Powers, D., & Martin, C. (2017, April). Using your entire arsenal instead of a silver bullet. Presented at the National Academic Advising Association Region 3 Conference, Raleigh, NC.

Western Kentucky University Office of Institutional Research (WKU IR) (2016a). Fall 2016 Regional campus enrollment report [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://www.wku.edu/instres/documents/ fall_2016_regional_campus.pdf 

Western Kentucky University Office of Institutional Research (WKU IR) (2016b). Fall 2016 Regional campus enrollment report [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://www.wku.edu/instres/documents/ 2016_quick_facts.pdf 

Cite this article using APA style as: Martin, C., King, H., & Powers, D. (2017, December). Using your entire arsenal instead of a silver bullet. Academic Advising Today, 40(4). Retrieved from [insert url here] 

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