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State invests in Roadrunner retention, completion and career success

$1.5 million in one-time funding inspires a number of innovative proposals; here are some ways funds will affect faculty, staff and students.

By Lindsey Coulter

October 11, 2018

campusPresident Janine Davidson, Ph.D., and Metropolitan State University of Denver’s legislative team fought hard to gain additional funding for Roadrunners during the past legislative cycle. Thanks to their efforts, Senate Bill 262 passed, infusing MSU Denver with an additional $1.56 million in one-time funding this past May. 

The possibilities for these funds generated tremendous excitement on campus. Academic Affairs and Student Affairs administrators and department chairs were challenged to craft research- and data-supported mini-grant proposals that would scale or pilot practices that support or advance student retention, completion and career success. These focuses reflect the tenets of the Colorado Department of Higher Education master plan and the University’s 2020 Strategic Plan.

Roadrunner faculty and staff rose to the challenge, submitting more than $2.5 million in requests on short notice.

After careful review, the Office for Student Affairs, led by Vice President for Student Affairs Will Simpkins, directed funding toward a number of new and ongoing programs and initiatives. If successful, these efforts could position the University for additional funding in the future.

“We had to move quickly with the limited window, and I appreciate the many members of the campus community who heard the call and engaged,” Simpkins said. “It will help to secure future funding and additional opportunities for the community to think strategically and put forward their ideas.”

Developing a primed workforce

A portion of the $1.5 million grant will support the development of the Classroom to Career Hub, or C2 Hub, positioning the University as a partner for employers. This does not mean the University will deviate from its mission of providing a comprehensive, well-rounded education. Rather, the funds will help generate support services for students and innovative programming to complement the University’s already-established, excellent programs. This requires streamlining and modernizing existing job and internship databases to improve tracking and reduce confusion, and bringing together the Applied Learning Center and Career Services offices.

This first phase of the C2 Hub infrastructure development also will include hiring an executive director for career engagement. Simpkins has challenged the new director to engage 100 percent of students in career planning within three years by thinking strategically about where, when and how to connect.

“Students find resources that help them plan their careers in every corner of the Auraria Campus as well as in our virtual presence,” Simpkins said. “The C2 Hub will be in the middle of all of that, trying to connect those disparate opportunities.”

Simpkins also envisions the C2 Hub as a collaborative workspace for students and faculty, with idea-incubator labs and dedicated spaces for employers and alumni.

Investing in advising

Funds also will be designated to pilot floating advisors in the College of Business. This will include the addition of virtual appointments, some temporary staff and new career and résumé technology.

Similarly, a College of Letters, Arts and Sciences pilot program will help faculty develop intrusive advising skills in support of student retention. The approach empowers faculty members to advise students where they are — whether it is in the classroom or in the dining hall — instead of waiting for students to come to them.

Jason Janke, associate dean of CLAS, said that in an era of declining enrollments, retention plays an increasingly significant role at MSU Denver. 

“If we do not retain the students that choose to come to MSU Denver, not only does our enrollment suffer, but students also are left with a financial burden and often a poor perception of their college experience,” Janke said. “Our intention is to improve the rates of retention by providing proactive advising so that students have access to the resources available to better develop the skills needed for success in college.”

Additional investments

In addition to the projects mentioned above, the one-time funds will support the following:

  • Communication Arts and Sciences will create new professional communication resources (Professor Dan Lair).
  • Student Engagement and Wellness will expand case-management services (Associate Dean David Haden).
  • The Writing Center will scale its Roadways Into Developing English Skills (RIDES) program (Professor Elizabeth Kleinfeld).
  • The College of Professional Studies will pilot a peer-mentor program (Dean Rebecca Trammell and Jesse Lunsford).
  • The Applied Learning Center will pilot an internship-grant program (Rhonda Eaker, Ph. D.).
  • The Roadways program will add more peer mentors (Megan Scherzberg).
  • A faculty mentoring program will be created for undergraduate research (Professor Sheryl Zajdowics).
  • Financial Aid will introduce a chatbot to answer common questions about financial aid 24/7 and establish a college-completion grant fund (Thad Spaulding).
  • The Center for Advanced STEM Education’s Learning Assistant Program will be scaled up (Professors Brook Evans and Hsiu-Ping Liu).
  • Work-study funding will be maintained at 2017-18 levels (Thad Spaulding).

Demonstrating success

Connected to grant funding is a rigorous data-reporting timeline. All projects must demonstrate outcomes at the end of fall 2018, mid-spring 2019 and the end of 2019.

“We want to show the legislature what this investment yielded and what future investment in MSU Denver could yield,” Simpkins said. “While there is no one potion to solve retention, completion and career success, given our mission and the students that we serve, there are many programs we think in combination could radically redefine higher education at MSU Denver.”

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