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Blueprint For Student Success

Nov. 26, 2007


By Julie Parrott

Like thousands of high school students today, Rebekah Knappe began her college journey with little more than an idea of the programs she wanted in a university. She discovered Baylor while searching online for schools offering the unique combination of women's rugby and interior design, and followed up by connecting with a Baylor admissions counselor during a college fair at her Colorado high school.

"I signed up for materials and met Jonathan Evans, the admissions counselor for my state, at an event hosted by my high school counselors," says Knappe.

Evans, BA '00, initiated a virtual tour of the campus for Knappe via the Baylor Web site, then encouraged her to submit an early admission application.

"Jonathan really made the difference," says Knappe. "I submitted my early admission application online that night!"

Even from a thousand miles away, Knappe was overwhelmed by the response she received from Baylor. "I immediately started receiving e-mails and mailings, which not only were informative, but made me feel welcome, wanted and important to Baylor. When I was accepted, I received a t-shirt in the mail. I wore the Baylor colors with pride!"

A growing number of students receive their first introduction to Baylor the same way Knappe did: by searching through university Web pages, exploring everything from course listings to cafeteria menus. In a recent survey of Texas high school juniors, more than half said the most effective information tool in a university's communication arsenal was a comprehensive Web site. Of the freshmen who chose Baylor this fall, 99 percent said they used the Internet at some point in the college selection process, 85 percent using it frequently.

With that in mind, the Baylor Web site was redesigned this summer to ensure that potential students could quickly and easily have their questions about Baylor answered.

"Prospective students rely upon our Web site to learn about Baylor's academics, social activities, Christian commitment and values, etcetera," says Randy Woodruff, BA '82, Baylor's assistant vice president for video and electronic communications. "The Web site is how and where they apply for admission, check their application status, pay their deposit, sign up to visit campus, apply for housing and more. The new front page is an acknowledgment that the University's Internet front door should meet the needs of these future students."

A personal connection

However, the online experience alone is rarely enough to base a decision so important to one's future upon, so Baylor employs a multi-faceted approach to the recruitment process, beginning with well-established relationships with high school counselors, pastors, youth ministers and alumni throughout Texas and across the country. This network, while providing valuable information to students in general, is always on the lookout for students who would find a great fit at Baylor.

In addition to meeting with admissions counselors, interested students receive a series of mailings highlighting the social and spiritual atmosphere of campus as well as the academic and financial aid offerings. Current students employed by Admissions as telecounselors help answer student questions and encourage a visit to campus. Many faculty members also are available to talk with prospective students.

"Visiting campus is a critical component of the recruitment process," says Kevin Kirk, BA '93, who has spent the past eight years working in admissions and is currently director of Baylor's Campus Visit program. "Getting students on campus for a personal visit, Premiere weekend, Sic'Em Day or an Invitation to Excellence for National Merit Semifinalists has consistently proven to be pivotal in helping students choose Baylor as their college home."

Knappe worked with the campus visit staff to structure her own visit, which included a meeting with a professor in the degree field she would be pursuing. "Arriving on campus, you sense that you have entered into an environment that is not only beautiful and welcoming, but different," says Knappe. "You are greeted by strangers with broad, genuine smiles. Both my mother and I were totally taken with Baylor and the interest shown by the professor."

While a campus visit can serve as an introduction to students unfamiliar with Baylor, for others, coming back to campus as a prospective student is simply confirmation that they are making the right choice.

"I knew what I wanted from my college experience. I was serious about my commitment to get a good education as well as having access to a faith community where I could learn who I was and about life," says Claire Owen, a senior in international studies. Even though Baylor was in her blood--a legacy student with alumni in her family going back several generations on both sides--Owen initially chose a different university based on cost, but with disappointing results.

"There was no sense of community," says Owen, who transferred to Baylor after her freshman year. "My interactions with my professors didn't make me feel like they had any real interest in me as a person. I was just a number. I knew I needed to make a change."

Having included Baylor in her initial college search, Owen had stayed in touch with her admissions counselor via e-mail and arranged for a campus visit. "The minute I stepped on campus, the deal was sealed! I was embraced by a sense of tradition, taken with the physical environment, and felt sincerely welcomed here."

More than a numbers game

If the success of the recruitment process was measured by the number of applications received by admissions alone, then Baylor's efforts already could be considered a smashing success. This year, Baylor admissions staff received more than 26,500 applications, an increase of 57 percent over the past five years. However, Diana Ramey, assistant vice president for enrollment management, is quick to point out that numbers alone are not the goal.

"We're not just looking for students to fill classrooms," she says. "As our counselors meet students and cultivate relationships, and as we look over applications, our goal is not simply to enroll freshmen, but to enroll graduates." Though it may sound cliché, it is a sentiment echoed throughout Baylor's recruitment ranks.

While Baylor looks for high-achieving, well-qualified students who can meet the academic rigors of college life as a starting point, Ramey says Baylor pays special attention to the individual student's future potential and commitment to the mission and vision of the University, and her staff agrees.

"We take our responsibility to develop the total person very seriously," says Jennifer Carron, director of admissions. "We take a close look at the contribution we believe the individual is capable of making to the Baylor community while a student, and to the community-at-large once he or she graduates."

Out of the 26,500 applications submitted, 44 percent or approximately 11,000 applicants received acceptance letters. Final first-year-student enrollment for Fall 2007 was 2,732 students. This included incoming freshmen as well as 452 transfer students and reflected one of the most accomplished classes in school history, boasting an average SAT score of 1218 with 40 percent of the freshmen graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school classes.

Investing in the future

Cultivating relationships with qualified prospective students and introducing them to the campus environment and activities is only part of drawing students into the Baylor family. Another key component is financial aid. With tuition prices going up across the nation, Baylor's Student Financial Services office is careful to examine each accepted student application to determine eligibility and qualification for scholarships and award funds.

For the current school year alone, Baylor awarded $108 million in scholarships; that number includes merit awards and $23 million in need-based financial aid as well as endowed scholarships set up by individuals, churches and community organizations that are available to students based on their chosen field of study, community involvement or even the county in which they live.

"Scholarships bring Baylor within financial reach of every deserving student," says Bill Dube, BA '68, MBA '72, director of Baylor's endowed scholarship program. "On average, we raise $14 million annually in new scholarship funds to help make students' Baylor dreams a reality."

Merit-based awards are offered to students when they are accepted; whatever need-based aid the student might be qualified for is later added. Student Financial Services also works on a case by case basis to coordinate work-study opportunities for students, loan applications and grants.

"Being able to meet student needs for financial assistance is not only a recruitment tool," explains Jackie Diaz, assistant vice president for Student Financial Services. "It is a key factor in student retention."

According to Diaz, national benchmarking standards reveal that at least 70 percent of an individual student's financial need must be addressed or the university is at high risk of losing the student. This fall, Baylor was able to address student financial needs at the 74 percent level, exceeding the national benchmark.

I'm Baylor Bound

Once students have decided to come to Baylor and found ways to pay the bills, they can move on to the next step in the journey: getting oriented to the University's academic and community expectations. The New Student Programs department, directed by Elisa Dunman, begins reaching out to students with an invitation to participate in one of 10 Orientation events or Baylor Line Camps through a program called Baylor Bound.

Two-day orientation sessions held in early summer provide new students with foundational information on everything from selecting a meal plan, to how to take care of themselves, to academic expectations. Orientation is not required, but is highly recommended.

"Over 90 percent of students attend orientation," says Dunman. "They like the opportunity to sign up for first semester classes and to connect with other students. This gives them the confidence of knowing they will have friends the first day they arrive on campus."

Baylor Line Camp is a unique program introduced five years ago to equip new students for their transition to student life through the exploration of personal strengths. Line Camp generates enthusiasm around Baylor traditions and school spirit while inviting students to explore and recognize their God-given strengths through one-on-one interactions and small group discussions. This year, each camp filled to capacity as more than 650 students participated.

"Line Camp introduced me to not only people so I could make friends, but I learned about the rich heritage and strong traditions of Baylor and how they all would soon affect me as a freshman," says Amanda Miller, a freshman from Bridgewater, Va. "Besides having a great time doing camp events, laughing a lot and spending some late nights talking, I feel like Line Camp changed me as a person. ... It helped me realize that I can involve the Lord in my life and have him as the center point, while still having an excellent and fun college experience."

The final component of the New Student Program experience is Welcome Week, held the week before classes start. Hundreds of volunteers kick off the Welcome Week experience by helping students move in, carrying box after box up flight after flight of stairs to quickly get freshmen settled in. Featured Welcome Week programs include academic open houses, an introduction to what it means to be a Baylor Bear, and a celebration of opportunities to contribute to the community-at-large.

Coordinating more than 340 volunteers comprised of returning students to support Welcome Week activities, the staff of New Student Programs recognizes the importance of the work they do and heavily relies on upperclassmen to convey a strong message about the Baylor mission and to provide an exceptional first experience for new Baylor students. The volunteers --mostly sophomores and juniors--lead small groups that help new students get to know each other and find their way around campus without worrying about impressing upperclassmen or looking out of place.

"We emphasize that the Baylor experience is an individual experience that is safe and inclusive," states Matt Bonow, BA '00, MS '06, program coordinator for New Student Programs. "It is a unique opportunity for students to find their identity and learn to live as that person, recognizing that we have choices about who we become."

"It is our responsibility to communicate to each and every student that they make a difference," echoes Keane Tarbell, New Student Programs' associate director. "We begin helping students to chart their course in life, to discover their calling."

Tools for success

The carefully choreographed and integrated programs of the Student Life division demonstrate a commitment to the development and success of each student that continues throughout the college experience. That commitment received a substantial boost this fall with the opening of the Paul L. Foster Success Center.

The Center, made possible by a generous gift by Paul Foster, BBA '79 (see sidebar), brings together five departments that previously had been located in various buildings across campus. Devoted to developing Baylor students to their full potential, the Success Center, located in the newly renovated Sid Richardson Building, now houses Academic Advisement, Academic Support Programs, Career Counseling, Career Services, and the Office of Access and Learning Accommodation.

"Being centrally located in the heart of campus has greatly increased student traffic," says Brandon Miller, BA '94, assistant vice president of the Success Center. "Previously, a student really had to want to come see us because we were so spread out across campus or in the [Robinson] Tower. Now students regularly drop in on their way to and from classes, and on a given day, dozens of students utilize the common areas of the Center for study."

The improved visibility and convenience of the new Success Center also means that faculty are more likely to make students aware of the services available, now that they have a specific location. Within 48 hours of receiving a faculty referral to the Success Center's Student Referral program, the students are contacted and staff members begin actively working with the student to assess the need for tutoring or other services.

Academic advisor Doriss Hambrick, BA '94, MA '02, helps students connect with resources that will enhance their academic success. Students who were admitted into the University with the provision of certain first-semester grades, students who may be on academic probation, and transfer students who need an orientation to study skills or information resources are encouraged by the work of mentors, tutors and special workshops that are part of Academic Support Programs. "Students get lots of one-on-one interaction with members of the academic support staff. Any student may come and request our services," Hambrick says.

Supplemental instruction, another service of the Academic Support Program, employs upper level students who have taken a course and received an "A" to retake that course with a group of new students and then lead the students in weekly study groups. According to Julie Cash, BS '81, MS '82, academic advisor, "It really doesn't matter what your SAT score is; you've got to learn to do college. The supplemental instruction leaders promote collaborative learning activities, help students verbalize the material in their own words and model good study practices."

Junior Liz Perez, a pre-med major, took advantage of supplemental instruction groups to improve her grade in two chemistry courses. "They made an announcement in class, and I knew I needed all the help I could get," she says. "I needed help understanding the material and more practice. We met two times a week and worked problems together." Perez says the extra help paid off in her final grades and was something she would recommend to other students.

Students with documented disabilities can get additional help. The Office of Access and Learning Accommodation (OALA) provides assistance based on the disability; common services include classroom and testing accommodations.

For Coleton Burch, a sophomore from Dallas, the OALA has made all the difference. Burch has been legally blind since the age of 6, and the counselors at his small private high school suggested that he could find the help he needed only at a small college. While traveling home with his mother Robin from a visit to a suggested school, Burch decided to stop by the Baylor Welcome Center. When the Welcome Center staff learned of his interest in Baylor, they immediately made contact with the OALA.

"We met with Sheila Graham, who was then in charge of OALA, that afternoon. She told Coleton, 'Your job is to get accepted to Baylor; we'll take it from there,'" remembers Robin.

Coleton Burch did his part, and since starting at Baylor the OALA has helped with selecting professors, provided an alternative place to take tests, enlarged papers, provided books on tape and CD and appointed students to help Burch take notes in class. In addition to his studies in speech communications, Burch is now involved in organizations on campus like Student Foundation.

Just down the hall from the OALA, the Career Counseling office assists students in matching individual personality traits and skills with a major and then a career.

"We provide career counseling for students who do not have a major or who want to change their major, or who are interested in what they can do with their major," says Pat Weaver, director of career counseling. "The goal is to help them to choose a major or career path that will be satisfying for them."

Counselors use a pair of assessments to come up with a list of majors/careers that a student might be interested in pursuing, then help the student whittle down that list and create a plan of action.

That plan comes in handy as graduation approaches and students flock to the various job fairs held on campus each year by the Career Services department. Just last spring, the HireABear Career Fairs attracted 125 employers and more than 1,300 students.

And that's not all the staff does to prepare students for entering the workforce. Career Services staff members help students by coordinating mock interviews and holding seminars on topics such as résumé building, networking and job search skills. An adviser even works one-on-one with students to improve individual résumés and help students find internships and full-time employment.

From getting in to graduation

In the end, all of these services and programs exist to support the University's mission "to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence and Christian commitment within a caring community."

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