When thinking about higher education, you might not think of relationships as one of the most important factors. But it’s true! Relationships help students succeed, help professors flourish, help grow community engagement and, mostly importantly, help potential students decide on their university of choice.
A study completed by the “American Journal of Business Education” titled, “Who and What Influences Choice of University? Student and University Perceptions,” asked students to rank what sources of information influence their decision to enroll at a university. Among the 16 options were mother’s influence; father’s influence; university faculty/staff/coach; student at the university; Facebook/MySpace/YouTube; email from university; and high school teacher/coach/counselor. Which one did students rate as the most important influence for choosing an institution? The answer is University faculty/staff/coach. (The next highest rated choice was mother’s influence, followed by a visit to university campus.)
According to the Idaho State Board of Education, less than 50 percent of eastern Idaho high school graduates are attending post-secondary education within two years of graduation. This number is lower in Bonneville (42 percent), Bannock (40 percent) and Power (31 percent) counties. Without question, tackling the unique challenge of higher education in rural areas is not easy. For me, the questions become, “Why aren’t we spending more time building valuable relationships with our local high school students? Why aren’t we mentoring these students so that enrolling in higher education after high school graduation is a given?”
To help combat these challenges, the College of Arts & Letters developed and implemented three programs in the 2016/17 school year to help reclaim the relationships between the University and local high schools. First was the Liberal Arts High program, in which professors traveled to area high schools to give presentations based on their areas of expertise and to share information about ISU. These opportunities help high school students build meaningful relationships quickly, as students remember an outstanding college-level lecture and become excited about the possibility of attending ISU and taking a course from their Liberal Arts High professor. Over 5,000 students at 28 Idaho high schools had the opportunity to have a Liberal Arts High professor visit their classroom. Both of these numbers are expected to grow during the coming school year.
Liberal Arts High not only builds relationships between professors and students but also between professors and high school teachers. For example, ISU political science professor Kellee Kirkpatrick visited Highland High School teacher Pam Fleishmann’s classroom to give a Liberal Arts High presentation on “Rocking the Vote.” Following the presentation, Kirkpatrick and Fleishmann discovered ways they could utilize each other’s strengths in their classrooms; Fleishmann could draw on Kirkpatrick’s knowledge when preparing lessons, which, in turn, gives Kirkpatrick a sense of how prepared students are when entering college.
In addition to Liberal Arts High, the College visited high schools in eastern Idaho and gave one or two students at each high school a Road Scholars Scholarship to ISU. Each student was nominated by their principal, then they submitted an essay outlining their goals and dreams. Winning students were selected based on their essay submissions and GPA and then were presented with the scholarship at the school during an assembly, a class session or a small student meeting.
The Road Scholars program helps recruit students from eastern Idaho, which is one of ISU’s main goals. When students see how much scholarship money is available at ISU, it makes college seem like a more viable option. The program has also helped the College develop relationships between local high school principals, teachers, and parents. These relationships, in turn, help everyone in the process of recruiting students to ISU and encouraging students to go on.
Finally, this upcoming fall, the College will implement an On-Campus Dual-Enrollment pilot program for local high school students in which students will have the opportunity to take college courses not offered at their high schools. They will take courses on the ISU campus taught by hand-picked (and in many cases award-winning) professors. Students will earn both high school and college credits that are transferrable across the country. This opportunity helps high school students build relationships with accomplished faculty members and future peers and helps them develop realistic expectations of what life as a college student is like.
As you can see, there are many reasons that this community and our high school students benefit from building relationships with faculty and staff members at ISU. The College of Arts & Letters and ISU are committed to connecting with the members of our community and with students and teachers in our local high schools. Together, we can build the next generation of community and economic leaders — the kind of leaders best suited to meet the needs of a rural and global society.
Kandi Turley-Ames is the founding dean of the ISU’s College of Arts and Letters. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology with an emphasis in cognition and memory from Washington State University. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychology since 1997 and has served ISU in a number of faculty positions.