First Year Experience Initiatives at the University of Kentucky

Student Success and Campus Retention WorkgroupAn important task for the Division of Undergraduate Education this year as part of the 2014-2020 Strategic Plan is to lead the University in a review of our undergraduate students’ first year experience.  This fall, a First Year Experience (FYE) committee was created as a subgroup of the Campus Retention Advisory Committee.

The FYE committee meets on a regular basis to increase communication between colleges and units and to develop a seamless and intentional transition for first-year students—from recruitment through the end of the first year. Current programs and practices (e.g., recruitment, Preview Nights, summer orientation, welcome week, summer bridge, Living-Learning Program) are being reviewed as well as gaps that may exist in the first year experience. The FYE committee is also examining messages about University expectations and students success that are communicated to first-year students. The group will develop consistent messaging via publications, social media, orientation programs, UK 101, etc.

Key Updates to the FYE Program at UK

The University of Kentucky’s undergraduate community invests many volunteer hours and infrastructure resources to several components in the UK First Year Experience. Here are some updates on some of those we know have a big impact on UK student retention rates, contributing to UK’s #1 ranking for retention rates among Kentucky’s public postsecondary institutions.

Office of Retention and Student Success

The Office of Retention and Student Success implemented weekly emails to update colleges on retention and to identify specific actions (see for example the Spring 2014 outreach campaign). Dr. Bethany Miller, Director of Retention and Student Success, and the UK Analytics Team developed a retention prediction model. This model used data from five previous years of UK students to identify the 300 students closest to a 50% probability of not returning next fall. We targeted 300 students for outreach. Advisors in each undergraduate college conducted this individualized outreach to help promote the retention of the students. Using the retention prediction model and outreach we retained 62% of the students we identified as having a 50% probability of returning. This meant that 50 more students returned than would have been expected without the outreach.

UK 101: Academic Orientation

UK 101: Academic Orientation is a course designed to help first-year students in their transition to university life. Offered continuously since 1991, the course introduces strategies and resources that build a strong foundation for academic success while promoting opportunities for intellectual and personal growth. Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs collaborate to offer the course relying on the UK 101 Advisory Group, composed of faculty, staff, and students, to develop and evaluate the curriculum. UK 101 is one of the few courses at UK that is directed towards students of all majors and developed, taught and evaluated through campus-wide collaboration. Course evaluations completed by students, peer instructors, and instructors indicate that the course meets the learning outcomes for the majority of students.

Our goal is to reach at least 50% of the first-year cohort. Currently, 2445 first-year students are enrolled in UK 101 for Fall 2014 — compared to the 2080 students who completed the course in Fall 2013 — and more college-specific sections (approximately half of the 102 sections) were created for this term.

Since 2003, UK has experienced an overall positive growth in the first-second year retention rates for all students, though this trend has been long and slow. The chart below shows that this trend toward higher retention is seen in both students who enrolled in UK 101 and those who did not enroll. Within this general trend, there remains a clear differential between the first-second fall retention rates of those students who enrolled in UK 101 and those who did not.

line chart showing difference between UK101 enrollees and non-UK enrolleesStudents enrolled in UK 101 consistently are retained at a higher rate than those not enrolled. UK 101 students also consistently graduate within 4 years at higher rates than students who do not take the course.

The Common Reading Experience

Since the inception of the Common Reading Experience in 2009, the average percent of students who read the selected book is 77%. In 2013, 1717 students attended the author lecture held on campus. In a post-lecture survey last year, 86% of students stated that they strongly agreed or moderately agreed that the Common Reading Experience enhanced their experience as a first-year UK student. In the same survey, 83% of students strongly agreed or moderately agreed that after reading the book Where Am I Wearing, they were more aware and engaged consumers.

The UK Common Reading Experience has always been a part of the UK101 curriculum, and this year was enhanced through further integration of the book into academic courses (CIS/WRD 110; A-E 120, Pathways to Creativity in the Visual Arts) that are a part of UK CORE.  Programming was expanded throughout the first semester because of partnerships with numerous faculty, staff, and student groups.

See Blue U, Summer Orientation

The summer orientation program, See Blue U, was restructured to include small-group interactions between students and peer leaders and a greater emphasis on academic advising.

Living Learning Program

The UK Living Learning Program increased from 13 Living Learning Communities in 2013-14 to 18 in 2014-15. (See more on the Provost’s website about the work of the LLP Task Force.) There are over 1700 student participants in Fall 2014, double the previous year’s total. UGE and Student Affairs will work together to assess the impact of the significantly expanded Living-Learning Program.

The Study’s Peer-to-Peer Mentoring and Other Services offered in Academic Enhancement

UK offers peer tutoring for over 30 undergraduate courses through The Study, part of the Academic Enhancement unit in Undergraduate Education. The courses supported are primarily introductory courses in high-demand majors and STEM. We are opening a second location to offer these services on the north side of campus.

Data suggests a very strong, very positive correlation between accessing the Peer-to-Peer Tutoring (PTP) program for first year courses and student retention at the university from first to second fall. The chart below shows the impact PTP access has had on retention for the last six first-year cohorts:

bar chart showing PTP attendees vs. non-attendeesIn addition, Academic Enhancement offers Study Smarter Seminars, a one-time, three hour non-credit course designed to help students study more effectively and efficiently. The majority of students who utilize this seminar are first-year students.

Undergraduate Studies and Stuckert Career Center Reorganization

The Division of Undergraduate Education has initiated a restructuring of advising for undeclared students and career development. This involves linking the advising unit with the Stuckert Career Center. The staff in these two units will be asked to work together to develop more integrated services that connect academic advising and career exploration/development. The goal of this service re-alignment is to engage students in academic and career exploration as soon as they arrive on campus and help them consider majors, skills, and knowledge needed in relation to future careers.

Together we at UK continue to make improvements in our First Year Experience. And this means an improvement in our first year retention rates: UK’s 1-2nd Fall retention rate for the Fall 2013 cohort was 82.1%, the second year we have exceeded 82%.

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For Consideration: Zemsky’s Checklist for Change and the Future of Higher Education

This just in from Dr. Ben Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education, “Notes from the Associate Provost“:

Reading for the Week:

Checklist for Change bookcoverAmong the books on higher education on my shelf, one I have recently returned to is Robert Zemsky’s Checklist for Change: Making Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise (Rutgers, 2013). Zemsky teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the chair of the Learning Alliance for Higher Education. He is widely known for developing an approach to higher education reform based on market analysis, an approach that attempts to understand the colleges and universities as “competitive enterprises” with specific cost structures, productivity, markets, as well as lofty goals and missions. Checklist for Change is notable for several reasons, including Zemsky’s coverage of the history of earlier reforms of higher education and his several case studies of on-going efforts at reform across the United States. (A review of it can be found here).

One of the reasons I find the book interesting is Zemsky’s account of the development of a new general education curriculum at UW-Oshkosh, a process that bears considerable similarities with UK’s own creation of UK Core several years before (his Chapter 9). Zemsky indicts general education as “negotiated peace treaties in which departments sought to garner sufficient enrollments to justify for their faculty lines” (157). Zemsky argues that the lack of coherency is one of the reasons why students are often frustrated and resentful of general education requirements. It also undergirds a fundamental premise of Zemsky’s prescription for change: the need for a “competent curriculum” (the title of his Chapter 11). For Zemsky, “what drives higher education’s operating costs upward are the nature and organization of its basic functions,” including the costs of the curriculum. These costs include faculty salaries, expensive technology, of course; even more important are the inefficiencies of ever-expanding major requirements, bottlenecks in course sequence, complex rules that make it difficult for students (and faculty) to understand what to take and when, and the expense incurred when student routinely take 140 hours for 120-credit degree.

Ben Withers

Benjamin C. Withers, Ph.D.

Zemsky’s solutions call for some difficult and far reaching changes: the reliance on competencies rather than seat time, the establishment of learning communities (what he calls student cohorts), and the creation of three year baccalaureate degree, among others.

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Join up or renew membership in the UK Advising Network

This just in from the UKADVNET listserv:

You are invited!  The University of Kentucky Advising Network is extending an invitation to you to become a new member or renew your current membership for the 2014-2015 academic year.

The UK Advising Network currently:

  1. promotes quality academic advising;
  2. supports the professional growth of academic advisors; and
  3. facilitates cooperation and exchange of information among persons who perform advising functions.

Membership in the network:

  • is open to all individuals employed at the university;
  • requires no fees;
  • meetings and events, along with access to the network’s listserv (UKADVNET), are open to members and the general university community;
  • voting eligibility in the network’s annual election is open only to members; and,
  • representation on the network’s selected university committees is open only to members.

All information regarding the network’s history, membership, committees, awards, meetings and events, professional development, and important dates are listed on the UK Advising Network’s webpage:

To apply or renew membership, please complete the 2014-2015 UK Advising Network Membership Application at the following link:

The application deadline is Tuesday, September 30, 2014.

The future of advising on this campus needs your active participation in all aspects.  If you have professional or faculty advisors in your office or college who would be interested in membership, please share this letter with them and be sure they receive access to the membership application.

Best wishes for a successful Fall 2014!

Jennifer R. Doerge
Academic Advisor
Secretary, UK Advising Network
University of Kentucky
College of Engineering
Department of Computer Science
102b Marksbury
Lexington, Kentucky 40506

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UK Common Reading Experience Faculty Lecture: Monica Blackmun Visona on the Arts in Sierra Leone

A Long Way Gone bookcoverThis just in from Annie Kelly, Assistant Director of New Student & Parent Programs:

The Common Reading Experience Program invites the University of Kentucky’s students, faculty and staff to participate in the first of three Common Reading Experience Faculty Lectures this semester.

Dr. Monica Blackmun Visonà, an art historian in the UK School of Art & Visual Studies, will present “The Arts and Community Healing in Sierra Leone,” on Wednesday, September 24th, 4-5pm, W.T. Young Library Auditorium.

Monica Blackmun Visona

Dr. Monica Blackmun Visonà, Associate Professor of Art History, College of Fine Arts; Faculty Director of the Undergraduate Certificate of Global Studies

Ismael Beah’s book, A Long Way Gone, describes a nation torn by the cruelty of individuals as well as by the rapacious demands of international commerce. Similar conflicts provoked by foreign exploitation of the region and its resources began when the first Portuguese ships snatched local men and women from its beaches in order to sell them into slavery about six centuries ago.

Yet this talk will not focus upon the suffering of Sierra Leone and its neighbors, but upon the strategies local people have developed to build social cohesion, and to reconcile communities faced with horrific problems. Through performances drawing upon artworks, music, and dance, individuals and groups have forged new bonds.

Sponsored by the Office of New Student & Parent Programs in Student Affairs.

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Think About Starting up a Service Learning Project: Sustainability Challenge Grant Deadline Oct 15

When I saw this announcement from Shane Tedder, UK’s Sustainability Coordinator, I thought: “Wouldn’t this be a great way to fund a community-based service learning project?”

Funding for sustainability-focused projects at the University of Kentucky is available from two campus initiatives: the Sustainability Challenge Grant program and the Student Sustainability Council.

Sustainability Challenge Grants

The Sustainability Challenge Grant program is designed to engage multidisciplinary teams from the University community in the creation and implementation of ideas that will promote sustainability by simultaneously advancing economic vitality, ecological integrity and social equity, now and into the future. A total of $100,000 is available with awards for individual projects ranging from $5,000 – $25,000 with the intention of funding 6-8 projects. Deadline to apply is October 15, 2014.  The Sustainability Challenge Grant Program was developed as a collaborative effort of the President’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, The Tracy Farmer Center for the Environment and the Office of Sustainability. Funding for the Challenge Grant Program provided by the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration, the Vice President for Research and the Student Sustainability Council.

More information, including application materials, is available at

Student Sustainability Council

The Student Sustainability Council (SSC) was formed to supervise the distribution of the Environmental Stewardship Fee – a $3.25 per student, per semester student fee – to responsibly advance the theory, practice and reality of sustainability at the University of Kentucky. Any member of the University of Kentucky community can submit a proposal for funding support. The SSC will distribute more than $150,000 for campus sustainability projects this year. Proposals are reviewed monthly and must be received by the first Sunday of the month  to be considered at that month’s meeting.  The respective deadlines are October 5, November 2 and December 7.Student Sustainability Council logo

More information can be found at

For more information on sustainability initiatives at UK, please visit

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New position in UGE: Associate Dean for Career and Academic Exploration and Assistant Provost

This just in from Dr. Ben Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education:

Dear colleagues,

Please find attached a position description (download .pdf here) for the newly created Associate Dean for Career and Academic Exploration and Assistant Provost in UGE. This position supports the reorganization of the Stuckert Career Center and Undergraduate Studies that was announced earlier this summer [see the Bluegrass Blade post].

This is an internal search.

Expected start date is January 7, 2015, though we understand that because ideal candidates are likely to currently have other administrative duties, there will some flexibility in timing and DOE percentages assigned.

Thank you,


Benjamin C. Withers, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
University of Kentucky
(859) 257-3027

*** Some selected highlights from the position description ***

The successful candidate for this position will demonstrate knowledge and familiarity with both academic advising and career development. Excellent communication skills and ability to create strategic plans and mission for a large, complex unit are required. Candidates must show the ability to balance competing priorities and to integrate multiple perspectives in their planning process. While maintaining a focus on the needs of undergraduate students, the Associate Dean/Assistant Provost must also be able to mentor staff and encourage greater faculty involvement from all disciplines in the advising and career development process across campus. This position requires ability to formulate and communicate a particular  vision for UK’s approach to advising/career services and a willingness to listen to and learn from multiple perspectives.

Specific duties include:

  • Lead and direct integrated career and advising units, with responsibility for overall budget and strategic planning.
  • Develop initiatives, services, and programs within UGE to support  undecided/exploratory, readmitted and transfer students in determining career and life goals.
  • Collaborate with deans and associate deans in all undergraduate colleges to integrate career exploration opportunities into academic curricula; facilitate academic progress for all UK undergraduates, promoting student transition into majors and into successful careers and post-graduate study.
  • Work with Advising Network and Advising Leadership Team. Develop and lead campus advisory committee to evaluate and strengthen advising and career services on campus, assess student, staff, faculty, and technology needs.
  • Implement engagement practices to foster productive relationships among students, staff, and faculty that help students explore and make academic and career decisions.
  • Work with colleges and Enrollment Management in recruiting first year and transfer students.
  • Serve as a member of campus leadership team for Retention and Student Success, helping to design and implement strategies to improve student persistence and progression using data to develop holistic campus-wide academic and career exploration strategies to improve academic performance and retention.
  • Collaborate in campus undergraduate curriculum processes, providing leadership for Undergraduate Council and UK Core Education Committee (UKCEC).
  • Coordinate pre-major requirements with academic departments and manage appeals for exceptions to the University’s General Education Program.


Candidates must be tenured members of any of UK’s undergraduate colleges and hold the rank of associate professor or higher. At least five years of administrative experience (such as department chair, associate dean, or other positions that involve responsibility for planning, budgeting and supervision of staff in a professional context) is required. Experience with academic or career advising is required.

Posted in College/Career Readiness, Diversity, Exploratory Students, General Education, Orientation, Retention, Transfer, UK Core | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching – Open House, Sept 23, 2-4 pm

The Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) invites you to attend our annual open house to be held on Tuesday, September 23 from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.  Their colleagues in the Office of eLearning are co-hosting the event.  CELT and eLearning are located in room 518 of the King Building (Science Library).  Directions are below.


Faculty Media Studio with green screen, big monitors and lights

Faculty Media Studio at CELT

Drop by to meet the staff and see the facilities to include CELT’s Faculty Media Studio and Fab Studio.

Pick up some CELT swag and enter a drawing for a book on teaching and learning.

Enjoy refreshments catered by Mark Jensen Catering.  Have some dessert thanks to our colleagues in the Office of eLearning and see their new Faculty Media Depot on the main floor of the King Science Library.


You can join the announcement list of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). Subscribe by going to and clicking on “Join Our Announcement List.”

If you know of an educational event that CELT might publicize or have an idea for an event that you would like to discuss, send a message to Bill Burke ( and the staff will contact you.

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Foreign Language Proficiency Tests – More to Choose From

This just in from Dr. Ben Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education:

Students who want to satisfy the language requirement in a language not taught at the University of Kentucky may take a proficiency test for this purpose.

There are proficiency tests available for several languages. A list of those languages can be found on the page “Testing for Languages not Taught at UK” on the UGE website ( Cost per test varies by provider; information about costs is on the website.

Tests are offered twice a year, on the second Friday in October and on the first Friday in March, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Before arranging for a test, students must consult with their College or Departmental advisor about the policy for proficiency testing as a means to satisfy the language requirement in their majors. Students must register and pay all fees for the tests at least three weeks before the date they intend to take the test. The student is responsible for paying all costs associated with the test.

To arrange for a test, contact Liliana Drucker (, 257-5723), Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures, 1055 Patterson Office Tower. There is also an on-line form, available through links on the UGE page and also on the MCL site (

Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures and Cultures


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Predictive modeling and retention rates at the University of Kentucky

This just in from Dr. Ben Withers, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education:

Writing for Inside Higher Education, Charlie Tyson calls attention to the “Murky Middle,” students whose first year performance places them neither in the likely-to-be successful category (GPAs above 3.0) or in the immediate danger zone (GPAs below 2). Graduation Rates by First-Year GPATyson cites Ed Vinit, a researcher at the Education Advisory Board (EAB), who argues that academic interventions — “nudges” or “triage” — for students in the “murky middle” can lead to improved academic performance and retention gains.

Small academic improvements correlate with greatly heightened chances of graduation. Thus the ‘murky middle’ offers colleges a powerful “return on investment”…Just a small nudge–one-on-one tutoring, time management counseling–could keep a student on track to graduate.
Read more here.

Venit’s research suggests targeting sophomore students. Here at UK we have used a similar approach for freshmen following the first semester. Last February, Bethany Miller (Office of Retention and Student Success) and Craig Ruddick (UK Analytics) developed a predictive model-based intervention program targeting at-risk students. This program identified 300 UK students who were mid-range students and whose academic performance in the fall semester indicated that they were 50% likely to leave UK. That is, without any intervention, we expected 150 of those 300 not to return to UK for Fall 2014. The list of students identified were shared with advisors in each college where they were invited to come in for targeted conferences; this fall, over 200 of “The 300″ returned, for a retention rate of over 60%.

We are expanding this program to over 600 incoming freshmen in the Fall 2014 cohort.  Given the EAB research, we should look at tracking students through their sophomore and junior years in a similar fashion.

For more information about the Division of Undergraduate Education, read and share the Fall 2014 UGE Newsletter. It is available to read online here, or you may download the PDF version here.

Benjamin C. Withers, Ph.D.
Professor of Art History
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
University of Kentucky
(859) 257-3027

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Retention Dashboard Includes Preliminary Fall 2014 Cohort

Have you used the Institutional Retention Dashboard yet? It is now available on the Tableau Server created by the UK Analytics Team. If you would like access to UK Tableau Server, please view the information here:

Chart describing retention and graduation numbers and percentages, Fall 2003 through Fall 2014

These data are the “official” numbers as reported to the Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). Additionally, “preliminary” data based on enrollments in Fall 2014 are  included (these numbers are negotiated and finally made official with the CPE by November).  With this dashboard, instead of the .pdf files that used to be posted on the Institutional Research site, you can analyze the official data with many different filters and find interesting new data that is important to understanding the success rates for students in  your college, program or academic support initiative. Rates are calculated for both retention/graduation at UK and within the students’ initial primary college.

NOTE: All “Retained” columns also include students who have graduated.

For more detailed information about your college’s retention and graduation rates, contact your dean’s office to ask who is your Retention liaison to the UK Retention and Student Success initiative. For more information in general about retention at the University of Kentucky, contact Dr. Bethany Miller, Office for Retention and Student Success, Division of Undergraduate Education.

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