MAP-Works pilot helps increase BU retention rates

By Paula Ann Solis
Staff Writer

With the completion of the MAP-Works program pilot year at Baylor, students and faculty are reaping the benefits through record-high retention rates and students expressing feelings of connectedness on campus.

Incoming freshmen and transfer students use MAP-Works, an online self-assessment tool that stands for “making achievement possible,” to analyze their strengths and weakness socially and in the classroom during their transition into university life.

Current freshmen and transfer students can take the assessment until Oct. 7.

Dr. Sinda Vanderpool, assistant vice provost for academic enrollment management, said using MAP-Works offers students something akin to a personal coach.

“We have a lot of staff and faculty members who for them, the reason they work at Baylor is to help students be successful,” Vanderpool said. “We also know that every student has a faculty member they are connected to just like athletes have their coach they rely on.

MAP-Works pairs staff and faculty with a small group of students to follow and help through their first semesters.”

This improved coaching system, Vanderpool said, was a large contributor to the 88.2 percent retention record seen from the fall of 2012 to fall of 2013.

Originally the university’s goal was 90 percent. Vanderpool said she is optimistic in the next few years that goal will be reached, especially with the growing use of MAP-Works.

Of the incoming students from the fall of 2012, 79 percent used MAP-Works when notified to take the assessment through email or their online GoBaylor accounts.

Sunset sophomore Torie Abbott said she remembered taking the assessment before attending Line Camp in the summer of 2012 and how it helped her in some areas but fell short in others.

“It was pretty long and when I filled it out I remember thinking some of these questions were worded oddly and confusing,” Abbott said. “But when I got my strengths and weaknesses report back it made a lot of sense and I found it really helpful.”

Abbott said she also used the assessment tool to express problems she was having with her roommate and expected to hear something back from someone about what steps to take. She never did and she said that was the most poorly implemented portion of MAP-Works.

Vanderpool said her department has been hearing comments about confusion with the program and how students can fully utilize it. She said the program needs some altering and year to year it will improve.

Ronald English, the academic support adviser for referrals, also said hiccups during the trial year were expected but a lot of work is being done to smooth out the use of MAP-Works this year, including the addition of more than 100 additional faculty and staff who can access to the assessment tool. That includes 145 BU1000 instructors, also known as new student experience instructors.

English also said though he is glad to see retention numbers going up for Baylor, that is not the purpose of MAP-Works as he sees it, though the assessment tool does advertise itself as a retention-improving program online.

“I know a lot of times when people think of effectiveness they think of numbers and ‘how many people did we save’,” English said. “But for me the success is in the stories. In the past students would walk in my office, I’d give them a schedule and they’d walk about. Now when students come in I can see if they have problems in other areas and I can help them resolve their issues. I don’t know if that keeps a student here the next year or not, but it prevents issues from going on without being addressed. That’s what I’m concerned with, helping students who suffer in silence.”

English said the biggest benefit students can receive as a result of MAP-Works is by reading the report they receive after taking the survey and finding out what areas they need to work on. Aligning students’ academic expectations with the reality of their work ethic is key, English said.

Little Rock, Ark., senior Clarissa Burton transferred to Baylor in the fall of 2012 and agrees the most helpful tool from the program is the report students get after finishing the survey.

“The best thing about it for me was that it put things in perspective,” Burton said. “It reassured me that I was on the right track with my major and goals.”

English said these types of comments from transfers were very common.

Many students, English said, came to him and said how grateful they were for the MAP-Works assessment tool. However, his worry is the tool is only being used in short-term ways.

This short-term problem is highlighted with students like Burton who said after the one time she took the survey and read her report she didn’t give MAP-Works much thought. English said he hopes to address this as the university expands the programs use.

“MAP-Works is going to have to become a part of the culture here at Baylor,” English said. “It can’t just be this one time injection into students and then they’re fixed. That’s why I don’t think MAP-Works by itself is the actual magic to student retention. It’s not the tool, it’s how the faculty and staff utilize information to help students.”

Other modifications for the future of MAP-Works include the possible expansion beyond freshmen and transfer students and the addition of more faculty and staff who use the program, English said.