Mark Willis advises student Alex Overbay in the Ag & Life Science Department.

In an effort to increase retention and graduation rates, the Career & Academic Advising Office and Student Records & Registration Office were asked to collaborate on an initiative to invite academically suspended students back to school.

The students were invited back as part of a sample period for the year 2017. It is still being discussed as to how the ideal time and method of intervention of student academic progress will be improved.  

"Future efforts will be targeted at early intervention and support and a review of current academic policies and processes regarding academic standing," said Sam Brubaker, Career & Academic Advising director.   

Each semester there are students who are not able to fulfill the academic standards for good standing and are put on academic suspension. Many of these students don't end up coming back to finish at BYU-Idaho. To keep these students on the path for academic success, advisors are inviting them to return to BYU-Idaho for a second chance.  

To qualify, the student must meet with a full-time academic advisor. These students are also required to attend a life or study skills class to better equip themselves for college life. Out of 1,185 students invited back from Fall Semester 2016 and Winter Semester 2017, almost 400 accepted the invitation and met the criteria.  

Mark Willis, an academic advisor for the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, has visited with some of these students. Willis said he has found that many of these students have had difficult life experiences that contributed to their academic suspension-much different from the reason he thought it might be.  

"What I found is they can't be lumped into that basket of 'hey, these students don't care about their academics,' because that isn't true," Willis said. "I have met students coming from all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of scenarios. It wasn't just a lack of study skills or study habits or caring for academics, there were situations that would have thrown anybody for a loop."  

Willis said many of the suspended students traveled great distances or made tremendous sacrifice to return to BYU-Idaho upon receiving the invitation to return.  

"One student jumped on a plane at a moment's notice to come, another drove across multiple states, and one even gave up their local assistant manager job so they could better focus on studies," Willis said.  

One grateful student, Kate West, shared her experience with Willis.  

"Over the past year, I've struggled with some challenges in my personal life that, regrettably, resulted in a rapid decline in my academic performance at BYU-Idaho. As I spiraled downward, from academic warning, to probation, and finally to suspension, I became depressed and viewed my situation with apathy," West said.  

Then she received a phone call from someone at BYU-Idaho inviting her to come back.  

"I had never spoken personally with anyone from the university about my poor grades. I thought, 'I might as well give it one last shot,' so I set up a phone-appointment with an advisor," West said.  

Students shared some heart wrenching situations with Willis including miscarriages, divorce, mental health issues, autoimmune issues, failed engagements, and misunderstanding with the workload of college life.  

"I met with between 40 and 45 students recently who were on suspension from the fall semester," Willis said. "It gave me a good glimpse into the lives of the students who have been struggling and see what their situations would be."  

Willis said he was surprised by the students' responses. He said many were humbled and took responsibility for their academics. For many of these students, like West, simply meeting with someone to get back on track was just what they needed.  

"My advisor helped me outline goals and plans to get back on track to finish what I started. But it wasn't just that; suddenly I realized that there was at least one human-being sitting on the other side of those computers, thinking something computers can't-'How can I help her?' And they were talking to me about it, and so I had to talk about it too!" West said.  

Another eye-opening realization Willis saw is that these students have strong desires for education, but their current educational habits need work. Hence, advisors such as Willis have prepared steps for the students to help them improve academically and has connected them with on-campus resources that can better assist them with their unique needs. 

"We try to help these students with a game plan to come back. We did not want to invite them back without a plan to change," Willis said. "I have committed each of them to five things to be successful during the upcoming semester. One of the most important is number five: that they pray every single morning that Heavenly Father would help them be successful."  

Advisors will be tracking these students to make sure they are accomplishing the recommended milestones given to them. According to Willis, so far the students he has worked with have shown they are willing to make the proper changes to succeed.  

"Students are grateful for the opportunity to come back," Willis said. "It was really awesome to see the change in some of these students. That's been the most rewarding part, to bring some of those students in on a follow-up visit to see the progress that they've made and where they've come mentally, believing in themselves that they can succeed."  

West expressed her appreciation for the second chance phone call and how it made an impact on her life.  

"I believe that when I get my diploma, I will credit that simple phone call for making the difference between dropping out and graduation," West said. "For the first time in a year, I feel hopeful and excited about my academic future."