One in four students who start at STU won’t finish here

Nancy O'Shea, director of student life and retention, is trying to help students finish their degree at STU. (Megan Aiken/AQ)

Nancy O’Shea is doing everything she can to keep students at St. Thomas University.

As the new director of student life and retention, O’Shea’s job is to make sure students make it from their first day on campus to graduation.

O’Shea was hired by the university this summer after a startling statistic emerged: one in four students at STU will not finish their degree.

The new director of student life and retention is in charge of helping students who struggle academically and directing them to services that will give them a push toward the finish line.

“We don’t want to just get our students here, we want to keep them after they arrive,” she said.

“I need to make sure that relevant and useful resources are in place to help them in their academic journey.”

One of the programs O’Shea overlooks is a called Learning for Success.

STU accepts students every year who are just below or bordering the 70 per cent entrance average.

These students are accepted on the condition that they are enrolled in Learning for Success.

Dennis Cochrane, former interim president of STU, said the program was created to lower the one in four statistic.

Last year was the first year of the program. Thirteen of the 25 students who were in Learning for Success held a 2.0 or higher grade point average and were able to return to STU this fall.

Alison Belyea, director of Learning for Success, says it’s too soon to say whether the one in four statistic is getting better.
But she is confident the program is helping the students who are in it.

“It’s supposed to support their other courses so that they’re getting the skills they need to be successful,” said Belyea.

“Because if you ended up in this average at the end of high school, there are skills you maybe haven’t developed as well as other students have for whatever reason. So it’s a course to bring those up to speed.”

Belyea says Learning for Success should be an option for anyone at STU who wants to improve skills such as research, essay writing, and other skills that are essential to university studies.

“Just because you’re a good student and coming out of high school doesn’t mean you know how to use the library here or know the MLA style of writing essays and things like that,” she said. “The students in this particular class will probably have skills that a lot of other students won’t have in their first year.”

This year the program has 34 students enrolled. O’Shea will be tracking their success throughout their time at STU to determine whether the program is making a difference.

“Stats are something that will come into play now that I’m here and we’ll be looking at student numbers,” O’Shea said.

“I’ve only been here for two months so it’s a little soon to tell if the one in four statistic has dropped, but over the next two years, we hope to have a good indication of whether we’re retaining students or not.”

Learning for Success is a good start to offering students services that will help them see graduation day, O’Shea said. But she also hopes to develop more support options for students.

“This year is a determining year to see what other services may be helpful for students. We currently have a lot of great services like peer tutoring and the writing centre.

“That’s what I’ve entered into, but I see my area growing and trying to build in further supports for students to be successful.”

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