The university is adding as many as a dozen professional advisers this spring. When the class of 2018 attends summer orientation, those advisers will help them register for their first semester and on, throughout their academic careers.
“One of the keys to retention is that students are going to feel more confident if they build a relationship with someone and have a clear path to their goal early in their college experience,” said Melissa Irvin, TTU’s director of Retention Services. “That builds security and it shows that Tech really cares that you succeed here.
“If they’re comfortable talking to their adviser, they’re comfortable talking to a professor and that’s so important.”
The Office of Retention Services was recently created. Its focus is entirely on giving students the support and services they need to succeed.
This change will give freshmen and sophomores access to one person to help them chart their progress toward their degree, select classes, and get information and answers to questions. Faculty members will also be able to focus more time on mentoring students as they progress toward careers in their junior and senior years.
“There’s a recognition in advising that it’s not just ‘take these four classes,’” said Irvin, who has advised hundreds of students through her work in the TTU College of Education Student Success Center and knows what services and partnerships will be helpful to students and faculty. “There are a multitude of skills. It’s also about the encouragement and helping people overcome roadblocks in their path.”
The advisers will work at the college and department level, with the Office of Retention Services to help and provide additional support. Every college will have its own student success center, with advisers and other resources. Each center will work in a similar way, so students, parents, community colleges and others know what to expect.
The change is in line with Flight Plan, an ongoing process by which the university develops priorities and tracks its progress. The first focus area of the plan is student success and improving the student experience. The increased advising will also help to ensure that students are getting the help they need to succeed academically and become an active part of the university community, but also that they are finishing their degree on time.
Finishing a degree in four years rather than five or six will reduce the amount of debt a student owes. More than 70 percent of the nation’s graduates last year owed more than $29,000 each. At Tennessee Tech, students carry an average loan debt of $6,400.
“TTU has been consistently ranked as one of the most accessible and affordable universities in the country while providing a high-quality educational experience,” said TTU President Phil Oldham. “We must continue to be diligent in our efforts to ensure our students’ success and control costs.”
Professional advisers will also help Tennessee Tech contribute to the state’s “Drive to 55,” a goal where by 2025, 55 percent of Tennesseans will have post-secondary degrees or certificates. About a third of the state’s residents have college degrees.
“We’re not just saying we care about our students,” Irvin said. “This is a way to demonstrate that there’s no one giving more resources than we are to make sure you reach your goal.”