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Student success

Student success

Zoë Hill '22 March 09, 2022

The pandemic threw the world for a loop, and the University is working to get students back on track by assessing their needs and offering interventions and resources.

The most complete statistic to gauge student success is the University’s retention rate, according to Justin Keen, director of assessment and student-centered analytics.

The University has retained close to 90% of first-year students each year since 2013, but the retention rate fell to 88% in 2020. UD’s PELL-eligible and first-generation college students, as well as those from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented on campus, saw greater gaps in retention similar to the nationwide trend.

Female student sits in the library on her laptop.
Students are getting increased support to help them succeed in their courses.


A national survey by think tanks New America and Third Way found that during the fall 2020 semester college students reported increased stress. Those reporting “significant” or “some” concern for their mental health increased 6% to 79%, and worry about friends or family catching the virus increased 3% to 86%. Online challenges were large and resulted in sagging motivation and questions about whether college is worth it.

“Often the folks who are struggling in class, that’s a manifestation of what’s going on in the rest of their lives, their access to resources,” Keen said.

One way faculty can identify students in need is by “flagging” those who are performing poorly, skipping class or not as attentive as usual using an online tool called the Student Success Network. This lets the academic intervention response team know which students may need more support.

Midterm grades are a good way for students to assess their progress and seek help while it can still impact final grades.

Previously collected and submitted online by faculty for only first-year students, the program received emergency authorization from the Academic Senate this year to include sophomores. The number of students with two or more D or F grades saw a small but meaningful increase fall 2020 semester.

“The students have really fought through a lot of different challenges, and that’s really the mark of beauty,” said Aaron Witherspoon, director of University advising initiatives and student success. “We’re all going to pitch in and do what we can to make sure that students are successful.”

Intervention takes on many forms, said Witherspoon. His office, in collaboration with the Learning-Teaching Center and academic units, is facilitating professional development for academic advisers and hosting events to provide students with even more resources for success. The Back on Track event held in November linked students with academic coaches, tutors, writing support, advisers and peer wellness coaches from the Co-Pilots program.

“Our goal was to create a one-stop shop for those students who really needed to talk to somebody and didn’t know where to go.”

“Our goal was to create a one-stop shop for those students who really needed to talk to somebody and didn’t know where to go,” Keen said. “No matter what the issue is, someone can help diagnose that and get [students] talking to the right person immediately.”

Kylie Jones, a sophomore tutor with the Write Place, the University’s writing center, ran a table at the event. She said she has used many of the available resources.

“As a sophomore that has been in the same shoes as everyone else, I just hope [students] know that there are resources out there that can help them,” she said. “We are going to make it through; it will be OK.”

After seeing success at the fall event, Witherspoon is planning two additional Back on Track events for spring semester. University administrators are also considering expanding midterm reports for upperclassmen, who have been vocal within the Student Government Association on students’ requests for more midterm feedback.

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