University of Houston–Downtown
The University of Houston Downtown is expanding support service offerings under a new office, the Gator Success Institute (GSI), creating a one-stop shop for a variety of existing and new programs and services to boost retention and engagement.
At present, UHD has a Gator Success Center on campus, which will expand into the GSI with the new programming, funded by $750,000 from the Los Angeles–based nonprofit ECMC Foundation.
What’s the need: UHD’s new strategic plan is in its first year of implementation, and the first priority is student success, says Liza Alonzo, interim director of student success and student life.
The university has a goal to grow its six-year graduation rate by 28 percentage points, to 58 percent, by 2028, and its first-year retention rate by 12 percentage points, to 79 percent.
UHD officials went through a three-month review with the National Institute for Student Success, located at Georgia State University, to identify barriers and opportunities in the institution for student success. The review—which included interviews, surveys and historical data analysis—found seven areas for improvement, which the GSI will target.
- First, officials are reimagining the caseload-management system by creating Student Success Advocate roles to liaise with students. Students will meet with their advocates to identify academic support opportunities as well as connect them to basic needs resources in an expanded advising role. UHD has four jobs posted at present and hopes to fill these roles by the fall to launch with the new academic year, Alonzo says.
- In advising and case management, data-informed decision-making is taking the spotlight. UHD has used EAB Navigate software to track student touch points for the past few years but is enlarging involvement among faculty and staff members to enhance data tracking. With the new initiative, anyone who is supporting students, including career services staff, student success advocates and advisers, will be using the system to streamline operations. The updated workflow is designed to minimize students having to retell their stories, but rather provide a unified look at their entire college experience and staff interactions, Alonzo says.
- In academics, UHD will expand learning communities among students in their first-year seminars. A learning community will be centered on a student’s discipline or career, establishing a small cohort of peers and one older peer mentor who serves as a supplemental instructor. The learning communities are under development but should launch in the next year or so, Alonzo says.
- UHD faculty are also reviewing degree maps and how they benefit students. In the institutional review with NISS, administrators realized the degree maps were out of date or incorrectly sequenced with actual course offerings, meaning students were receiving contradictory or unhelpful information in their degree progression. A group of faculty members is tasked with re-evaluating degree maps, putting them online to be accessible to students and ensuring UHD is offering the clearest path to completion.
- Launching for the first time will be bilingual family programming focused on supporting first-generation students and their parents or guardians. While parents have always been valued members of the UHD community, now they will have increased engagement opportunities with specific orientations and regular events and outreach, like monthly newsletters. Providing family programming will be a shared responsibility among UHD’s various offices touching on important topics like financial aid, academic preparation for students and student employment.
- The university will expand formal mentorship offerings among faculty and staff members, matching students to an employee to receive guidance and support their college career. Previously, faculty and staff mentoring was a boutique offering impacting around 300 students and will now be a stand-alone program, La Familia, for the entire campus population.
- UHD will also increase emergency assistance for basic needs resources. The university has several connections to basic needs support including a partnership with the Houston Food Bank, an on-campus basic needs center and some grant funding. Growing needs include emergency housing support, because UHD is a 100 percent commuter campus, and health-care insecurities.
Many of the initiatives are already underway or gearing up to launch in the fall, Alonzo says. UHD will welcome its new director for student success and student life this summer, and they will oversee implementation and growth of the GSI.
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