Washburn sees decline in academic probation

Ryan Ogle

After crunching the numbers from the Fall 2014 semester, Washburn University officials announced a drop in the number of students who found themselves on academic probation.

In previous years, the number of students on probation averaged over 400 per semester, but the most recent count saw those figures drop to under 300. Alan Bearman, Dean of University Libraries, feels the decline is a result of several factors, including the WU 101 course, posting mid-term grades for freshman and the various tutoring programs available on campus. He also points to the more upfront approach that faculty has been taking to academic advising.

“We’re starting to get much better at advising and being more direct with students about finding a schedule for success,” Bearman said. “It doesn’t make much sense to stick someone in class just because there’s an open seat.”

Of the students placed on academic probation, the majority tends to come from first-year students who find the path to higher education a little rockier than expected. Whether coming straight from high school or taking the non-traditional route, the adjustment to college life can be difficult. This is a situation the university is well aware of and taking steps to improve upon.

“We still have the second and third year students that wind up on probation and we’re building toward them. But historically, it’s that transition from high school to college is difficult.” Bearman said. “That’s why we’ve started heavily emphasizing that outreach to first year students. They’re the ones who often get overwhelmed and struggle.”

While the administration’s increased emphasis on scheduling, studying and paving a smoother road for freshman has made a noticeable difference, Bearman credits the university as a whole for the academic improvements.

“Culturally, there’s a commitment at Washburn to help students succeed,” Bearman said. “I think that culture has always been here, but it’s really starting to flourish.”

The push for maximizing student potential starts at the top of the mountain with university president Jerry Farley and trickles down to the rest of campus.

“Farley leads from the front,” Bearman said when describing Farley’s hands-on involvement. “He wants us to talk about student success constantly. You cannot give Farley enough credit. He sets the tone for this culture and because he’s so committed to it, so are we.”

Of course, the silver lining of declining probation numbers is not without clouds, as a number of students who were in academic dire straits last fall opted to not return this semester. This is somewhat alarming for a university already suffering from a substantial drop in enrollment.

“That’s always a concern and we’re doing research right now to find out why that is the case. Some of those reasons are obviously beyond the university’s control. Some parents will tell the student to come home and others will go to a community college,” Bearman said. “There is such a thing as positive attrition and that’s that we have to distinguish. Somebody may decide that they had a bad semester and take some time off. Anytime a student drops out, it’s a concern, but here’s a case where we can identify who they are and we can figure out why.”

As the saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. Relating this to the world of academia, Bearman urges struggling students to take the initiative and utilize the resources available to them.

“We all need help at times and the number one thing a student can do is ask for help. Put your hand up and we’ll come running, like the Seventh Calvary,” Bearman said. “There are more students than there are faculty, so if you don’t put your hand up, you might get missed. If you hit a bump in the road, no matter how large or small, don’t hesitate to ask for help.”