A bridge to success

Building a healthier student body at Shawnee State

By: SSU President Rick Kurtz

We’re building a healthier student body at Shawnee State University — one that is more prepared to succeed in college and the workforce after graduation. Over the past two years, we have taken a critical look at our admission practices and student success data.

We serve a unique mission in Ohio as one of only two open access institutions. We’re proud of the fact that we make college possible for many students who would not otherwise be able to overcome the financial or academic barriers that keep them from pursuing a degree. Nearly three out of every four Shawnee State students are the first in their families to go to college and are working to overcome unique challenges.

Access to a high-quality, affordable college education is critical in overcoming these barriers, but it’s only the beginning. While in the past we certainly enjoyed boasting “record-breaking” enrollment numbers, we started to look beyond the annual headcount to how many of those students who joined us in the fall as freshmen were ready for the rigor of college-level coursework and graduated with a degree. An even bigger question for us was what we could do as an institution to increase their chances of success.

We’ve taken a huge step forward in addressing student success with our new Bridge to Success program. This summer, more than 120 students are on campus taking courses that will prepare them for college-level classes, meeting one-on-one with academic and career advisors who are helping them establish goals and a clear pathway toward meeting them, and learning skills that improve their chances of success as entering freshmen this fall.

These are students who, based on their submitted ACT, SAT, or college placement testing, are required to take specific pre-college courses before they can enroll in college-level courses and begin to earn credit toward a degree. In the past, these students would often spend the first semester of college paying full tuition to take these pre-college courses. Without proper support, they often dropped out after the first year after having accumulated college debt. With the Summer Bridge – thanks to an Innovation Grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education – students can take their required pre-college courses for a one-time $50 program fee. All tuition, materials, and even housing, are provided for free. That’s a huge leg up for our students.

Beyond the financial benefits, our Bridge students are getting the chance to take their courses as a cohort in smaller classroom settings where they are receiving personal attention and advising from faculty. They are gaining confidence, learning study habits, and will enter Shawnee State this fall with a much stronger foundation.

Over the past year, we have been working with our regional high school guidance counselors to educate students about the use of college placement scores in predicting student success, college admission processes, and how our new program can help provide opportunities and pathways for more students. With their help, more than 100 regional high school students who were originally identified as needing the Bridge program worked to improve their college placement scores before this summer and were able to enter credit-bearing courses at Shawnee State. Like our Bridge students, these individuals are now better positioned for success in college — something all of us in education want for every student.

I look forward to sharing success stories about our Bridge participants in the coming months and years as they progress toward graduation.

Building a healthier student body at Shawnee State

By: SSU President Rick Kurtz