Along with coordinating with the campus-wide efforts to focus on retention, the Department of Religious Education is seeking to develop techniques that allow them to identify and assist students who might be at risk of dropping out.
Philip Allred, who serves as the chair of the Religious Education Department said developing these techniques came as a result of merging earlier efforts with others across the campus community.
“We had a group of TAs that worked with the faculty to identify, reach out to, and shepherd at-risk students,” said Allred. “We did it for a couple semesters and felt it was useful, but as we went to coordinate with others on campus, we found there was more interest in collaborating our efforts across campus than having us all in trying to accomplish these efforts on our own.”
With that realization, Allred and others in his department sought ways they could serve students and aid in retention using their unique position within the university.
“We just knew we needed to do something. Our department has a footprint for every student,” Allred said. “Each student takes 14 credits in religion during their time at BYU-Idaho. We interact with all students multiple times, so we know we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to touch each student.”
One of the efforts the department is making revolves around reaching each student individually and having that student interact with a faculty member who can then identify factors that indicate the student might be struggling.
“For example, one of our required religion cornerstone classes, The Eternal Family, has a curriculum that runs on two-week sections,” Allred explained. “During each section, we have a multimedia presentation that students accomplish on their own. This frees up class time for faculty to meet with each student throughout the semester and have a personal, one-on-one interaction with them.”
While meeting with each student, faculty can ask questions that not only help them get to know their students better, but also understand if there is anything that might present retention challenges for that particular student.
Rex Butterfield, Religious Education faculty member, explained how these meetings work.
“Faculty can have a conversation where, when they know what to ask, they can tell who of their students are at higher risk of not being retained,” Butterfield said. “Questions that help the teacher understand the work load of each student, their employment situation, and even information about their family and church activity help them understand if that student might be more at-risk than they originally thought.”
Butterfield also mentioned how TAs for faculty in their department flag the students they notice either aren’t showing up for class or aren’t turning in assignments, indicating which students might need some extra attention from faculty members.
While efforts of retention throughout the university are concerned with the percentage of students graduating, Allred emphasized the need to also understand the importance of reaching each student individually.
“As we work on retention, we need to remember that the aggregate numbers may come and go, but the issue should be less aggregate number and more the individual,” Allred said. “If a student feels cared for while at our university or in our classroom but still decides to pursue another path, that is okay! But if they came to BYU-Idaho and felt that they didn’t matter, then whether they stayed or not, we have failed. We have more control over whether someone feels cared for than if they decide to stay or not. That is what we can do at the end of the day.