LSU retention is a university-wide effort

As a top tier university, LSU is an attractive destination for prospective students, and this year, more incoming freshmen than ever before have chosen to attend LSU. Before these students even set foot on campus, university faculty, staff and administrators were working to make sure their college experience is a successful one.

LSU Assistant Vice Chancellor Saundra McGuire presented learning strategies, including metacognition and Bloom's Taxonomy, to Chemistry 1201 classes following their first exam.
Ernie Ballard/LSU University Relations

“Now that these students are on campus, there’s still work to be done,” said LSU Interim System President and Interim Chancellor William Jenkins. “LSU’s faculty and staff, along with numerous programs and services, are available to assist students to make sure they are successful in their educational endeavors. We will make every effort to retain these students and see them successfully complete their degrees at LSU.”

In January 2011, an LSU Retention Committee was formed with the mission of identifying ways to increase student persistence to graduation. Working collaboratively across campus units, the committee seeks to ensure that institutional policies and practices support student success.

“We knew that there was a need of increasing our first-to-second year retention rate because we are accepting some outstanding students now,” said Saundra McGuire, LSU assistant vice chancellor and professor of chemistry. “Students are coming in with the highest credentials as any classes in history, so we figured that we really should be able to retain our students from first to second year at a rate of approaching 90 percent.”

The LSU Retention Committee worked on ways to enhance and promote the services and resources available to students that help them to be more successful in their academic careers. The goal is to create a culture at the university where everyone – students, faculty, administrators and support staff – actively works together to increase student success.

Resources Available

The effort that the university is putting toward retaining students is a university-wide one, involving resources from all areas of campus. Students are touched by these programs before they begin their studies and can utilize these services throughout their four-plus years on campus.

“Academic support isn’t just for struggling students,” said McGuire, who noted that she has presented learning strategies to many honor societies. “It makes students more efficient at learning and can allow them to get more done in less time.”

Most students who enter LSU are first enrolled in University College. The college provides academic advising and support services that assist first year and some continuing students in defining their educational goals, pursing admission to a senior college, and ultimately earning a degree.

The effort that LSU is putting toward retaining students is a university-wide one, involving resources from all areas of campus, including University College, Student Life & Enrollment and Career Services, among others.
Jim Zietz/LSU University Relations

“University College is proud of its efforts to retain students at LSU and to see them move into senior colleges and eventually graduate,” said University College Executive Director Paul Ivey.

Part of University College is the Center for Freshman Year, or UCFY, which provides broad based academic counseling programs to educate students about the vast array of majors, programs and educational experiences that the university has to offer, and the University Center for Advising and Counseling, or UCAC, which aims to develop individual education plans and provide programming that lead students toward their goal of entry to a senior college.

“It is gratifying for us to see students succeed,” Ivey said. “More importantly, it is rewarding to our staff to see students who initially may struggle with adjusting to the academic and personal challenges of college life, and through our intervention and referrals to other campus support systems, we see students succeed.”

Other services provided through University College include Student Support Services, or SSS, the Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars Program and the LSU Summer Scholars Program.

SSS is a comprehensive, federally funded TRIO program that serves a small, select number of undergraduate students. SSS provides assistance at every stage of undergraduate education, from deciding what classes to schedule to preparing for a first job interview.

The Ronald E. McNair Research Scholars Program, also a federally funded TRIO program, promotes diversity of life experiences, cultures and perspectives in academia by providing support to 30 first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students seeking admission to graduate school.]

The LSU Summer Scholars Program is an eight-week summer program that prepares selected under-represented minority students to make a successful transition from high school to the university. This summer experience offers students the opportunity to become adjusted to the academic, personal and social challenges they may encounter at LSU.

The Center for Academic Success, or CAS, serves as an academic support unit for all LSU students – undergraduate and graduate – along with faculty, staff, departments and organizations and provides programs and services key to the LSU mission of “challenging undergraduate and graduate students to achieve the highest levels of intellectual and personal development.” As the university’s central learning center, the CAS enhances the learning and teaching experience at LSU by empowering individuals with effective, transferable strategies and resources.

Other programs geared toward helping students with the transition to and succeed in college include First Year Experience, S.T.R.I.P.E.S., Bengal Bound, LA-STEM Research Scholars, the Pelican Promise, university bridge programs and what may be surprising to some, even Career Services, since research has shown that students with a defined career goal tend to be more successful and are retained at a higher rate than those without one.

“There are so many resources out there with new things always being added,” McGuire said. “We definitely want parents and prospective students be proactive and search the website, but, most importantly, to take advantage of those opportunities. We have lots of data that show that students who participate in those programs are retained at a much higher rate than students who don’t participate.”

Numerous workshops, such as Geaux Academic, uSucceed, uExcel and Regrouping After Mid-terms, are held throughout semester to assist students with improving their overall academic performance.
Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations

Learning Strategies and Metacognition

Many students get to college and aren’t prepared for the academic rigor they are going to be faced with in college. They haven’t developed effective learning strategies and have gotten by in high school by memorizing information, but haven’t had to demonstrate critical thinking skills.

“These students have been very successful in high school; they have every expectation that their success will continue,” McGuire said. “Then when they are hit with that first round of exams and they get the scores back, that can be very debilitating.”

After their first exam, students often begin to doubt their ability to succeed, and many drop out of classes, or even leave the institution without achieving the success of which they are capable. These students may be told to “study harder,” to “focus on learning concepts” or to “do more homework problems.” However, these suggestions do not help students who do not know how to interpret this advice. Some students need explicit instruction and very specific strategies.

The CAS has developed a method to teach these strategies to students in both individual and group sessions, with similar concepts covered in both types of sessions.

These learning strategies foster both intellectual and personal development by promoting self-awareness in students in order for them to utilize appropriate cognitive-science, research-based strategies for achievement. Through presentations to classes and organizations, on campus and online workshops, programs for special populations and individual consultations, students drastically improve performance in classes which, in essence, allows “students to achieve at the highest levels of intellectual and personal development.”

When McGuire or other CAS learning strategies consultants meet with students, whether one-on-one or in a group setting, often one of the first questions posed is “What is the difference between studying and learning?” The answer is typically the same with each group of students, “studying is memorizing the information, and learning is applying it.”

“What has been most gratifying for me is to see how easy it is to get students to understand what it is they need to do here and to get them motivated to change,” said McGuire, who noted that students need to shift their paradigm from what was successful in high school to what will be successful for them in college.

Each semester, CAS representatives visit with classes after their first exam to talk with students about their learning strategies and to introduce metacognitive learning strategies.

The Center for Academic Success offers academic support by providing tutoring and facilitated study groups through tutorial centers, on-line tutoring and the Supplemental Instruction program.
Eddy Perez/LSU University Relations

“Metacognition is thinking about your own thinking,” she said. “What we’re trying to get across to students is that you are in control of your thought process.”

These metacognitive learning strategies teach students how to approach their exams as a problem solver. This strategy shows students how to monitor and control one’s mental processing and accurately judge one’s level of learning.

In addition to metacognition, the CAS introduces Bloom’s Taxonomy, which depicts the different levels of thinking people use when learning. These include knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Each level of Bloom’s Taxonomy can build on the foundation that precedes it.

“The success that we’ve seen is really pretty striking,” McGuire said. “Students who are making 20s and 30s on the first test are making 80s and 90s three weeks down the road. Once students know how to approach their learning tasks, it makes a big difference.”

CAS also offers academic support by providing tutoring and facilitated study groups through the tutorial centers, on-line tutoring and the Supplemental Instruction program. Students receive help in historically challenging subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, statics, economics and various other business, foreign language and STEM-related courses.

Student tutors and study group facilitators are College Reading and Learning Association, or CRLA certified – trained to utilize the most up-to-date research-based techniques in order to heavily emphasize critical thinking principles and concepts, allowing students to apply these newly learned skills to all disciplines within the university.

“Students listen to their peers, so if you train peers to be very effective at interacting with students and teaching the learning strategies within the context of the content, then it’s very successful,” McGuire said.

Academic Awareness Week

One of the major initiatives of the Retention Committee was get students to encourage their peers to perform well academically. The outcome is a program organized by Student Government to create an outlet where students could speak to other students peer to peer about responsible academic behavior. The result is Academic Awareness Week, being held Oct. 9-11.

“We are hoping to educate students on what retention is, why it matters and also talk about what are some things they can do to be better students,” said Thomas Rodgers, LSU Student Government academic affairs director.

Each day of Academic Awareness Week has a different focus, with information being distributed by Student Government from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day:

Rodgers said that Student Government members will be promoting university services that help students succeed at LSU. Students can stop by the tables at the different locations each day, or they can contact Student Government Academic Affairs at

“Retention matters at LSU,” he said. “I think students constantly hear this ‘retention’ term thrown around by administrators, CAS, their professors and even Student Government members, but rarely do they actually know where retention rates originate or why they are important at LSU.”

This will be the first Academic Awareness Week held on campus by Student Government, but the goal is to grow the event and to hold it each semester or annually. In addition to the information tables, Student Government will be delivering classroom presentations each day covering topics relevant to each day’s focus.

“I really want to applaud the faculty for partnering with the students go give them time to present this information in class,” McGuire said. “We’re going to change the culture and the behavior of our students one class at a time, one group of students at a time.”