Student Resilience: How One Institution is Helping At-Risk Freshmen Seize a Second Chance

Student climbing a mountaintop to reach resilience
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by Elizabeth Ross Hubbell and Sarah Seigle Peatman, Academic Impressions

We've written a lot in past articles about the importance of resilience or "grit" to student persistence, and about what some offices on campus can do to help students—particularly first-generation and PELL-eligible students—build their resilience. Middle Tennessee State University has adopted a remarkably comprehensive and affordable (and therefore replicable) approach to doing so. To learn more, we spoke recently with Vincent Windrow, formerly the University’s Director of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs and now the Assistant Vice Provost for Student Success, and Dr. Rick Sluder, Vice Provost for Student Success at MTSU.

They shared with us an in-depth look at MTSU’s REBOUND program: its three key phases, the results it has produced, and practical tips for other institutions that may wish to implement a similar initiative.

What MTSU Set Out to Do

Enrollment of students at MTSU who identify as either first-generation or are PELL-eligible has increased by 24% over the past five years. Now, nearly 50% of the incoming freshman class each year (1,400 out of 2,800 students) fall into one or both of these categories.

In fall 2014, Windrow and Sluder came face-to-face with a sobering statistic: during their freshman fall semester, roughly 560 students earned a grade point average of less than a 2.0. More worrisome, if things continued as they had in the past, only about 30% of these students would return for their sophomore year. This was deeply concerning and needed to be addressed.

In January 2015, operating with limited resources, Windrow and Sluder created the REBOUND program. REBOUND would be a multi-pronged intervention that would require coordination across campus, including IT, IR, housing, advising, and tutoring services. The acronym titling the program summarizes the key messages Windrow and Sluder wish to impart to its participants:

Retake classes.
Engage your purpose.
Be intentional about attendance.
Own your future.
Understand what went wrong.
Narrow your activities.
Determine that you are going to succeed.

The core idea is that at-risk students may have "shot and missed" in their first term, but with support, they have the ability to "rebound," have a positive and productive spring semester, and remain enrolled for their second year.

Here's a closer look:

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