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On the CAESS: fostering student/faculty relationships in online learning

Dispatches from the Advisory Council on Academic Excellence and Student Success.

August 18, 2020

Students walking across campus.The Metropolitan State University of Denver President’s Advisory Council for Academic Excellence and Student Success (CAESS) has been focusing on the topic of retention for the past year and a half. This fall, CAESS will be sharing ideas and resources for how faculty, staff and administrators can foster student success and retention despite the challenges of working in a mostly online environment. 

This week, the University welcomes more than 18,000 students to the (mostly virtual) fall semester. If previous trends hold, however, up to 5,000 of these students could drop out, transfer to another institution or take a break from school between now and fall 2021. Retention is a perennial challenge but something we can change if we all rally together to support student success. 

How can we make a difference? 

A good place to start is to focus on relationship-building. Students who have positive relationships with faculty are more likely to reach out for help, be successful in school and continue their studies through to completion. According to the most recent MSU Denver Student Experience survey, the University is doing pretty well in this area, but there is always room for improvement. Just less than 70% of respondents endorsed the statement “faculty members care about me as an individual.” Endorsement rates were in the 80-85% range for statements such as “I have opportunities to discuss my academic plans with a faculty member or advisor” and “I am comfortable asking faculty for help when I don’t understand something or am struggling with an assignment.”

As we kick off the fall semester, we encourage faculty members to think about how they can connect with the students in their classes through office hours, personalized emails, online discussions or other ways that make sense given their class sizes and teaching load. For more ideas, check out this SIP.

In these trying times, it is more important than ever to show empathy and care for our students. In doing so, we can create the connections that will help our students succeed.  

How do you create connections with students in online classes? Please share your ideas for creating relationships or other tips for improving retention with CAESS co-chairs Kristy Lyons, Ph.D.,, and Sean Petranovich, Ph.D.,

Topics: Academics, Best practices, Retention, Student Success

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