The process of selecting an appropriate topic for AUD’s QEP began on February 16, 2020. At that meeting, selections were made for a QEP Steering Committee with appropriate skills and reflecting a broad-based representation of faculty and administration.
The Steering Committee also developed a mission statement for the committee to clearly determine the purpose and goals of the committee. The following statement was developed:
The mission of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) Steering Committee is to create and apply a complete process that encompasses every stage of QEP development and the various tasks therein, to ensure that the QEP development process complies with the requirements and guidelines set by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), to oversee the production of a final QEP document that is ready for submission to the SACSCOC within the timeframe set for QEP completion and submission, and to create mechanisms for implementing the QEP once it is approved by the SACSCOC.
In the following, we describe the process for defining the preliminary focus of the QEP: First-year student success and AUD’s role in supporting and fostering success.
The Steering Committee created survey to help identify an area of focus for the institution’s QEP. The survey was a simple one-page form that provided a list of suggested topics for the QEP, based on a thorough analysis of QEP topics developed by comparable institutions (private liberal arts institutions similar in size). Furthermore, the survey had an open-ended component, which allowed for participants to suggest an altogether different topic from the ones listed.
A letter explaining the institution’s QEP along with the survey to explore potential topics was sent out in mid-August to AUD constituencies, including faculty, staff, students, the AUD Governing Board, and alumni. All groups were provided a two-week period to respond to the survey. The letter along with the survey were sent electronically via email and generated a response of 118 participants. The largest number of responses came from members of AUD’s faculty, which accounted for 36% of respondents. The other groups who responded were represented as follows: staff 30%, students 19%, alumni 14%, and Governing Board 2%. The topic that generated the most support from constituents was ‘first year student success’, which was selected by 22% of respondents.
Furthermore, other information was gathered regarding the AUD student population as well as trends both in the region and at American-style universities in the area of early year student success, which pointed to the desirability of focusing in this area.
From this initial response the Steering Committee began to examine the theme of student success with more interest and with a particular focus on early year student success in supporting overall academic success throughout a student’s university experience.
The Steering Committee did not meet again until July 2020. The reason for this extended delay was because of ongoing issues related to the university’s immediate response to protocols in relation to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Subsequently, the QEP Steering Committee was expanded to include several new members, including the selection of the chair of the committee, and developing, executing and analyzing results of a survey and focus groups to help identify the focus of the QEP. Naved Bakali, Assistant Professor, School of Education was selected as the chair of the Steering Committee. Furthermore, it was decided to include additional members to the Steering Committee. Matilda Jabbour, the university’s registrar, was nominated to the committee because of her extensive experience within the institution and her expert knowledge on issues related to student success, student retention, and institutional effectiveness. Farah Arkadan, Assistant Professor, School of Business was nominated to the committee for her innovative expertise on promoting and marketing, which the Steering Committee felt was a needed skillset for the QEP to gain widespread institutional awareness and adoption.
At this point, two sub-committees, or teams, were created for this purpose:
Three focus groups were convened throughout October and November 2020 in order to discuss themes related to student success to identify possible topics for the QEP. The three focus groups consisted of the following groups, which the Steering Committee identified as the most essential in developing a purposeful topic for the QEP: faculty, staff and students. Specific questions posed to each focus group, summaries of responses, and interviewer notes are documented.
Prior to engaging the focus groups, the members of the QEP Steering Committee developed a “Purpose Statement” for the focus group sessions:
The purpose of the QEP Focus Groups is to continue the process of generating useful information from several AUD constituencies in order to move forward in the topic selection process. This will be done by soliciting ideas and reactions to previous information gathered from the QEP Steering Committee and QEP surveys.
General conclusions from the focus groups follow:
The preliminary focus that was defined following the QEP was on first-year student success and AUD’s role in supporting and fostering success . As dictated by the SACSCOC Reaffirmation Handbook for developing a QEP, the topic is, on the one hand, “perceived as significant to the institution and as a major enhancement to student learning and success, and on the other hand, provides a manageable framework for development and implementation” (p.36).
As such, the following steps, detailed thereafter, were taken to refine the QEP focus:
In summary, following these steps, the resulting narrowed QEP focus is to enhance first year student success though mentorship support in key “gatekeeper” courses, transforming “gatekeeper” courses –barriers to student success and matriculation –to “gateway” courses. “Gateway” courses should prepare more students with the knowledge and skills needed to advance towards degree completion (that is, enhanced first year learning and success). We define “gatekeeper” courses as any first-year courses that effectively function as pre-requisites for progression to higher-level courses. More specifically, they can be characterized as barriers to student success and matriculation. These courses tend to have a high annual enrollment rates and a high rate of students not passing (i.e. grade of C- or below). At AUD, key gatekeeper courses include the University Experience course (UNIV 100) and Developmental Math courses (MATH 090, 095, 103, 104). These courses carry no credit but have an impact on learning and success in subsequent credit-bearing course.