6 Ways Walton College Promotes Student Success
February 4, 2021 | By Stephen Caldwell
College students can learn about systems theory in any number of classes, but they don’t always experience this concept in practice while living out their journey through academia.
Karen Boston, a longtime member of the Walton College staff, is working to change that. Boston recently was promoted to senior assistant dean for student success and chief student officer, and one of her primary duties has been to launch and run the Office of Student Success.
Most universities include some version of “student success” in their mission statements, but there’s a tendency to execute that noble idea in individualistic ways. Faculty, staff and department leaders focus on doing their part, but they can slip into silos of very good work that falls short of greatness when they aren’t working together.
The idea behind the Walton College Student Success initiative is to bring a comprehensive, systems-thinking approach to efforts around student engagement, retention, degree completion, career readiness and job outcomes.
Academics in a variety of disciplines began studying systems theory shortly after World War II. By understanding the dynamics of systems with interrelated and interdependent parts, it would be possible to identify inefficiencies and then manage those systems more effectively. This holistic approach has been applied in a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, ecology, engineering, psychology, and, of course, business.
J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc., for example, is a complex system of business segments in transportation and logistics. It runs its own fleet of trucks, manages fleets for other companies, provides brokerage services, and offers a sophisticated online platform. Its business decisions take into account everything from the diverse needs of its drivers to the distinct, complex systems of its customers.
Kirk Thompson, J.B. Hunt chairman and former chief executive officer, once said the company operates much like the engines in its trucks – all the parts work together and changes to one part can have a positive or negative effect on parts in other areas.
“One of our strengths through the years,” Thompson said, “has been the ability to take a holistic view of our systems — like how pricing in truckload impacts the company’s overall profitability — and a holistic view of our customers’ systems.”
That type of holistic approach is under-developed (or flat out missing) in many universities, so the Walton College has launched six initiatives designed to coordinate efforts that are intended to help students succeed academically, socially and vocationally.
- Bring the Walton College experience to a broader set of students.
- Identify and remove challenges faced by current students.
- Anticipate which students are at-risk and intervene early.
- Create a clear student development roadmap.
- Better align student success efforts within Walton.
- Be a good partner in aligning student success efforts on campus.
A larger, more diverse student body not only provides more opportunities for students to succeed but also impacts the success of all students.
The University of Arkansas’ land-grant mission compels it to serve the entire state, so this initiative begins with “Turn 2 into 4” partnerships with two-year colleges across Arkansas. These agreements, which include some schools outside of the U of A system, help students start their education at a two-year college and finish it at the Walton College. Right now, students can finish online degrees in accounting, supply chain and general business, and online options are in the works for marketing and HR management.
Boston and her teams are working to make it easier for students who want to transfer to the U of A campus after completing an associate’s degree. For example, the Walton College offers those students access to a number of scholarship options, including one, the Arkansas Transfer Achievement Scholarship, that allows students to attend the Walton College on campus at the same rates they paid at their two-year college.
The Walton College runs similar programs for international students, particularly those in China. Students can spend two or three years at a partner university in China, for instance, and finish undergraduate degrees in supply chain management at the Walton College.
Juggling the demands of multiple classes is its own valuable learning experience for college students, but there are times when those demands become an unnecessary barrier to success. Those are the types of barriers Boston and her team look to identify and remove.
For instance, business law is a required first semester class for business majors, but the biggest exam for that class routinely fell on the same day as a big exam many of those students had to take in a math course. By working with the math department, the schedules were coordinated so that students had more time to prepare for and succeed in both classes.
By using short but frequent student surveys and analytics software such as Forecast 5, the Walton College is identifying and responding more quickly to the needs of students and student groups. These tools help turn data into insights to help students who are struggling or at risk of struggling, and not just with their academic work. It also helps spot and address challenges students face with things like adapting to remote learning, dealing with racism, the implications of COVID-19, socializing with other students or handling the time management demands that are unique to college life.
One of the biggest and most high-profile initiatives around student success in the Walton College is designed to help students develop a cohesive roadmap for career readiness.
The Walton College now uses its Freshman Business Connections class to help students design personalized college experiences that fit their needs and goals. Students use an online platform (the SAM app) to manage their activities and track their progress on 12 career readiness competencies such as leadership, tech readiness, community engagement, communication and critical thinking/problem solving.
The platform makes students aware of events like workshops and speakers, and it archives achievements like assignments and experiences so students can review them later, like just before a job interview.
Their achievements also can be shared to their LinkedIn profiles, and they can earn badges, including some that are endorsed by corporate partners.
In addition to its academic departments, the Walton College includes a variety of offices that provide students with unique opportunities and support their goals. For instance, the Walton College has an Undergraduate Programs Office that manages undergraduate recruitment, academic advising, retention, the honors program and study abroad programs; Walton Career Services; the Business Communication Lab; the Dr. Barbara A. Lofton Office of Diversity and Inclusion and a variety of student clubs and organizations.
Part of Boston’s role is to identify opportunities for student success integration internal and external to the Walton College.
The University of Arkansas also has a Student Success Center that serves the entire campus and isn’t specific to any college or major. It offers academic coaches, tutors, writing consultants, study sessions and a variety of resources and connections to resources.
Three other colleges, as well as the Honors College and Global Campus for online students, also have student success initiatives. Boston works with the leaders of the center as well as other campus leaders to make sure the Walton College initiatives complement all the other programs.
By coordinating efforts across campus, within the Walton College, with corporate partners, with two-year colleges throughout Arkansas, and with universities as far away as China, Walton College Student Success can identify and eliminate obstacles while developing opportunities in every areas of a college student’s journey. That’s a theory worth putting into practice.