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Montclair State program putting focus on improving retention, graduation rates

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From left, Joanne Cote‑Bonanno, associate provost for academic programs and assessment; David Hood, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean; and Daphne Galkin, assistant dean for academic programming, University College at Montclair State University.
From left, Joanne Cote‑Bonanno, associate provost for academic programs and assessment; David Hood, associate provost for undergraduate education and dean; and Daphne Galkin, assistant dean for academic programming, University College at Montclair State University. - ()

Montclair State University is introducing a new program this fall to assist students in choosing a major with the goal of increasing retention and graduation rates.

University College will serve freshmen and transfer students who have not selected a major or intend to change their primary course of studies. The program is part of a national trend to guide students toward a major so they graduate within four years with skills to start a career.

According to Montclair State’s Office of Institutional Research, the one-year retention rate for students who enrolled between 2007 and 2016 was 82.4 percent. The four-year graduation rate was 40 percent; five-year 61.2 percent; and six-year 64.7 percent.

David Hood, founding dean of University College and associate provost for undergraduate education, has been engaged in improving student success rates for the past 10 years. Until last month, he was a dean at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., leading a similar program that supported 3,000 students.

“We faced challenges in retaining students and graduating students on time,” Hood said. “The primary focus was to look at the experience of first- and second-year students. We raised the retention rate from 67 percent in 2009 to 81 percent in 2016 at North Carolina Central University. We serviced all freshmen, sophomores and transfer students with less than 60 credits.

“We looked at our policies – how instructors were teaching courses and how faculty were engaging students,” he continued. “I had amazing success for eight years and thought it was time to explore and spread my wings.”

Hood expects Montclair State University to have as many as 2,500 students in University College. He cited research indicating students who have not declared a major are more likely to quit college or leave an institution. Hood said he hopes students identify a major by the end of their freshmen year.

Colleges and universities are facing greater challenges in retaining students, Hood said, because many students are not sufficiently prepared to support themselves in their first year.

“With decreasing federal aid, the number of Pell Grants are not enough to sustain all students,” Hood said.

In his new role, Hood is responsible for creating an environment in which students can easily transition into majors and take full advantage of Montclair State’s extensive resources as a public research university while increasing the likelihood they will stick with their chosen major and graduate on time.

“Retention is a challenge at all institutions,” Hood said. “The more selective institutions have higher retention rates in the middle 90s to high 90s.”

A native of Carrollton, Ala., Hood is excited to start his new job at Montclair State.

“My only connection to New Jersey was visiting my uncle in Teaneck,” said Hood, who served as president of the Association of Deans and Directors of University Colleges in 2016-17. “As a country boy from a little town in Alabama, I never thought I could afford to live in a hustling and bustling place near New York City.”

Daphne Galkin, assistant dean for academic programming at University College, said University College will focus on the undeclared, or “at-risk,” population.

“This is to help students forge that path sooner,” Galkin said. “When you’re 18 or 19 years old, it’s OK to not know what you want to do. We are hoping to give them the tools and the resources and the support upfront so they can make an educated and informed decision.”

“This is the beginning of a program of exploration and discovery,” added Associate Provost of Academic Programs Joanne Cote-Bonanno. “We want them to move forward to graduation and careers. This becomes an official place for our students to receive advising, counseling and academic programs.”

University College will offer a general education course in freshmen seminar in groups of 15 to 19 students, Cote-Bonanno said. Other students take the same type of course in their major.

Montclair State University President Susan Cole said University College will enable students to acclimate successfully to the large and dynamic university that Montclair State has become.

“It will enable students to make effective use of the many academic resources available to them, mature their understanding of the nature of university study and give them a sense of confidence and comfort in their various interactions on campus,” Cole said in a statement. “We are helping them finish in a timely manner in four years with the right number of credits so they did not have electives that did not count.” 

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David Hutter

David Hutter

David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at dhutter@njbiz.com.

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