Thoughts for Opening of the Semester

Dear Undergraduate Instructors,

Welcome back to the Fall Semester for 2011!  I hope that this time of year is as exciting for you as it has always been for me.  I enjoy seeing new students arrive on campus, ready for this big step in education and personal growth.  As we ready for the opening of term, I wanted to share a few thoughts with you all.

As you know, retention of freshmen from the first fall to second fall has been a concern for the past several years.  Since the 2006 incoming cohort, we have increased student retention from a low of 76.4% to over 81%.  This represents an enhanced level of attention given to the success of incoming freshmen by faculty and staff across the campus.  However, I want to though share “the rest of the story.”

Underlying this push on freshman retention is the realization that UK, as a research university, has a relatively low graduation rate (ca. 60% graduate in 6 years) compared with many research universities we consider to be peers and benchmarks.  This low graduation rate also means that our degree production is less than we would like, and UK should be a prime driver of enhancing the educational status of the Commonwealth.  In spite of our growing success in the return of freshmen for the second year, we have another gap to narrow.  For the past eight years, we have also been losing approximately another 10% of our students between the second and third years.  This makes it very difficult to raise our graduation rates closer to our 2014 goal of 65% graduation rates.  We must now focus on how to at least halve that loss. Why do students who choose UK over all other schools then choose to leave after two years?  We will answer that question and work on the underlying causal issues this coming year.

However, one of the strongest factors in students identifying positively with their major, career, and of course, their university, and subsequently graduating, is faculty contact and interaction, inside and outside of the classroom.  The message from a faculty member that says the student is important can be critical to future success.  Yet, 31% of last year’s freshmen reported that they thought few faculty were interested in them.

To that end I ask that you think about how you can provide the message that your students’ success is important, particularly in those first and second year courses.  Here are some things you might want to consider.

Time Commitment: How much time do you expect students to spend preparing for and reviewing the materials for your class? Over 62% of last years’ freshmen reported studying less than 10 hours a week.  Are we challenging our students?  Our seniors tell us through another survey that we may not be challenging them enough. Tell them what it takes to be successful.

Attendance:  Do you stress attendance?  Attendance is a very strong indicator of success for students.  Over 70% of last years’ freshmen reported missing class occasionally, and 10% reported missing class frequently. Students who miss frequently do poorly in class, and this is a strong contributor to leaving the university early.  Even if you do not require attendance, discuss the importance of attendance to success in your class.  Emphasize the fact that there are activities during class that are in addition to the outside readings and assignments and that missing these will negatively impact their grades.  Of course, we must also make sure that our class time does indeed offer up challenges, content and activities beyond what can be gotten from the text or someone else’s notes!

Class Participation: How would you like students to participate in your class? Can you give students suggestions for preparing for class such as bringing questions or simply arriving on time and reviewing notes?  Are there short activities you can add to your class to enhance the engagement of students with the material?  If you are interested in ideas for your class, consider contacting the UK Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching or CELT at
Academic Support: Let students know about support outside of class.  There are a number of academic and personal support resources on campus, and the Academic Success website aggregates most of these (; this may help you if a student is seeking assistance and asks.  For many first year courses, “The Study” in the Commons provides free peer tutoring services that are quite effective at assisting students in their course work (  Students who utilize the study have higher retention rates and success in many key classes. Be sure to mention it to your students, especially the freshmen.  Also let them know about any study resources in your own college.

Student Alerts:  If you have students who are missing class in the first two to three weeks, please submit a Student Alert. We hope that all instructors will know about and use the “Student Alert System” to give academic advisors information on students who are having trouble. Faculty and other instructors simply submit the alert through the myUK interface, and the alerts are sent to the student (if you wish) and to the student’s advisor. For more information, go to in the first two to three weeks can make a difference in student success.

Finally, as indicated above, interaction is important.  Stress office hours, review sessions, and other opportunities to talk with students. Tell them why your discipline is exciting to you, why what they are studying is important.

I wish you all the best this coming year.  Please do feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss student success issues.



About Mike Mullen

I currently serve as Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Kentucky. I am also a Professor of Soil Sciences in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the College of Agriculture.
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