The University College is neither a university nor a college.
It’s actually a new program added this semester, designed to boost retention (re-enrollment) rates for freshmen and transfer students with undeclared majors by helping them find a field of study.
Currently, 209 students are enrolled in the U-College.
Associate Vice Provost Kim McNeley described the program as a “portal” for undeclared students to transition into a major.
“We used to put them in the Arts & Sciences General Studies program, or they’d select a major even though they knew it was meaningless because it seemed like the right thing to do,” McNeley said.
Statistics show 55 percent of the General Studies students stayed after one year, and only 18 percent graduated.
“We saw an untapped potential,” McNeley said.”We were losing as a community and students were losing personally because of no support or academic home.”
McNeley mentioned how the process of finding a major “can seem paralyzing,” making the University College valuable to students.
The remodeled second floor of the Student Success Center, which houses the University College, is filled with encouragement. Words like “success,” “collaboration,” “achievement” and “research” are splashed across the walls in blue and white.
“It’s cool; I never really came here before,” said senior Chemistry major Keela Scott. “It’s open and quiet for the most part. I do a lot of group work up here.”
U-College freshman Nichole Kelly said she is interested in psychology and music, and enjoys reading and cooking, but is not sure what she wants to major in.
She is enrolled in the “Heroes and Monsters” seminar course to explore her literary interests.
The U-College is modeled after a similar program at Arizona State University. UMKC’s Provost Gail Hackett was the founding Dean of University College at ASU and had a considerable part in creating UMKC’s University College.
After hiring McNeley as Associate Vice Provost, advisers and retention coordinators were needed.
The U-College aim is to provide one-on-one academic support for students. Students are assigned specific advisers to help them select a major and address individual needs.
Joanna Davis, from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and Jennifer Coldiron, the University of Arkansas, were hired to fulfill the purpose.
“It’s not something we’re just going to try,” McNeley said. “It’s a big commitment by the university. It’s based on a tried and true practice that has been applied across the country.”
Students enroll in a seminar course, UNIV 101, which is taught by faculty from various academic units. University College allows students to explore interests in order to make more informed decisions when selecting a major. Students may choose from seminars including: “Sex, Flies and Videoscapes: Biology in the Modern Media,” “Heroes and Monsters” and “The Life and Crimes of Kansas City.”
“[The seminars] focus on fostering academic success,” McNeley said.
“We want to develop a ‘spirit of critical inquiry,’ asking good questions and engaging students, and a ‘reflective habit of thought,’ asking, ‘How am I doing? Did my choices affect how I did on that test? Do I have enough balance?”"
All seminar classrooms are located in the SSC, giving students easy access to campus resources.
“We link them with resources that ‘A’ students have been utilizing,” McNeley said.
They include supplemental instruction (SI) sessions, Career Services, Academic Support and Mentoring and the Writing Studio.
“It’s tight how the Writing Studio is over here and then you can just go and talk to your academic adviser,” U-College freshman Adrian Williams said.
Undeclared transfer students
Undecided transfer students are the larger percentage of students in the U-College. According to McNeley, they require different attention than freshmen.
“We move them directly into the career exploration process because we need them to be more thoughtful more quickly,” she said.
In the second semester of U-College, freshman who still haven’t declared a major are placed in a “career and major exploration” course. Upon arrival, transfer students are immediately placed in this course to help propel their academic decision.
McNeley said the U-College will meet later this semester to determine when students should reach an academic decision and exit the program.
“Most people do really well with a deadline,” McNeley said. “We don’t have a set deadline yet for students to move out of the University College, but it should be around after 45 completed credit hours because it impacts every other academic unit they are transitioning into.”
McNeley said she hopes students will make a decision quickly, but hopes the connections made with faculty and academic resources remain. The ultimate goal is to have students graduate within four to six years.