The University of Minnesota may soon expand its Access to Success program across all freshman-admitting colleges and increase its scope to all four years.
Robert McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, said the change could be implemented as soon as fall 2013.
ATS was created in 2008 to serve low-income, first-generation or other nontraditional students that required extra academic support to ensure success. It is currently only available to first-year students in the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Education and Human Development and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Sciences.
About 475 students are enrolled through the program each year. Many of those students would have previously been admitted to the General College, which closed in 2006.
A proposal to expand the program is expected to be delivered in mid-March to President Eric Kaler’s consideration, McMaster said.
For McMaster, extending the arm of the ATS program is an issue of equity. He said he believes ATS students should have the option to study biology or marketing, instead of only having the opportunity to transfer after their first year.
“This group of students should have access to the whole University, not just less than 50 percent of the University,” McMaster said.
In relation to other students, ATS has similar first-year retention rates, grade point averages and average credits per semester — strong indicators of success, McMaster said.
For students enrolled in CLA in fall 2008, an average GPA was 3.16. For ATS students, that average was 2.81.
Retention rates in 2010 for ATS freshmen in CLA were actually higher than other students, with an 88.7 percent retention rate. Both CEHD and CFANS had similar numbers.
“Something is obviously going very right there with those students,” he said.
In addition, McMaster is proposing an extension of the program into all four years of the undergraduate experience, with added activities like workshops and short courses to build on freshman year.
“Right now it’s mostly just a first-year experience and after that, there’s not as much attention to ATS students,” he said.
McMaster said they would also change the program name to have a more positive connotation like Golden Scholars — a “working title.”
They are also looking to find additional fiscal resources, like private donation or University funding, to lend to the ATS program.
McMaster said all the colleges were “agreeable” to admitting ATS students.
College of Science and Engineering professor Marvin Marshak said in an email it’s only logical to expand access for ATS students to all colleges, provided there are supporting resources.
“The key is adequate support,” Marshak wrote. “Support is essential so that students really do succeed.”
Steven Cisneros, director of ATS, said a committee has been meeting for the past six to eight months to discuss the expansion.
Cisneros said the committee, which represents different colleges, wants an ATS expansion to be well thought out and not a “temporary fix.”
Through focus groups with past and current ATS students, the committee has learned students want support past their first year at the University.
“Students often need support for four years and in different ways,” he said.
Cisneros said students say they continue meeting with their academic adviser after their freshman year because they have formed a “strong connection.”
“One thing that we’ve heard from our students in the focus groups over and over again is that they have really enjoyed their advisers.”
Though the program is college-specific, it generally focuses on building a sense of community and offering lots of “face time” with academic advisers, he said.
Similarly in the CLA ATS program, about 80 percent of students choose to stay in the advising program, said Andrew Williams, director of diversity student support programs.
Daisy Hidalgo, a freshman political science major in ATS, said students meet twice a semester with peer mentors.
She said it’s helpful to talk about goals and accomplishments with them.
Williams said their program employs “high impact practices” based on research to enable graduation and retention of students, like required courses in both fall and spring semester.
The program has been successful, he said. While several students have transferred to the University Honors Program, others are securing competitive internships and leadership positions on campus.
To continue that success, the University needs “to provide greater access to our underserved, underrepresented population,” Williams said.