When it comes to graduating college students in 4 years at an affordable price, Texas State University – San Marcos is already doing a good job by state standards, coming in 5th on our inaugural Top 10 Best Texas Public Colleges List.
University officials say they were happy to be recognized for their efforts to make sure students earn a degree in a timely manner, but were quick to add that they expect their numbers to get even better in the future. That’s because of a new first-year experience program they have been working to implement beginning this fall.
The program, called Personalized Academic and Career Exploration, or PACE, is a series of customized services available through the institution’s University College that will be offered to incoming freshmen who have earned not more than 15 semester credit hours since graduating high school.
According to Dr. Dann Brown, Dean of the University College and Director of the PACE program, that translates to a majority of the first-time students Texas State serves.
The program will be offered to students for their first two semesters of college and is comprised of four components: academic advising, career counseling, mentoring and a University Seminar.
“The first two components will help to establish an academic path for students by giving them the tools to determine what they’ll need to do to graduate on time. A part of that is asking students to access and reflect on who they are and what they want to become,” Dr. Brown said.
All participating students will be encouraged to take 15 semester credit hours to keep them on track to graduate in four years, in most cases.
Once individual goals and expectations have been established, freshmen are linked with high achieving juniors and seniors who are there to help them avoid pitfalls along the way,” said Dr. Brown.
The fourth component involves a University Seminar, a credit-bearing class that helps students with their transition to college. “This is where we introduce incoming freshmen to our campus and to our culture and engage them in learning how Texas State can help them be successful and what they’ll have to do to be successful,” he said.
The PACE program will be a part of the new $47.7 million 130,455 sq. ft. Undergraduate Academic Center scheduled to open June 1. Dr. Brown says faculty and staff are excited to make use of the new facilities throughout orientation this summer. “We’re going to connect students to the services they’ll need when they come back in the fall. All the people they’re going to meet during orientation will be here when they start classes, so they’ll already be familiar with them and where to go to access services.”
Texas State spent several years developing PACE as a part of the institution’s Quality Enhancement Plan for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which is their accrediting body. During the planning process, officials said they used a bottom-up approach by getting input from students, faculty and staff on what they felt was needed to improve student support services for incoming freshmen. They coupled that input with national best practices for the first year experience to develop what they feel is a program customized to the students the institution serves.
The PACE program was piloted during the fall 2011 semester with very positive results. During that time students were asked what they learned about career exploration through their PACE assessments. One student responded, “The most important thing I learned with my career exploration was probably the career fields that would best suit me. Coming to Texas State I really had no idea what I wanted to pursue for a career, but with many assessments and some research I feel more confident about making that decision.”
“What we’re doing is pushing the conversation forward to a student’s freshman year instead of waiting until their senior year to ask them to think about what they really want to do with their lives. Our goal is to help our students make the very best decisions for what they need to do to be successful in college and beyond,” Dr. Brown said.
Texas State spent a year identifying personnel for the PACE Center. All the new hires were required to undergo extensive training on the institution’s core curriculum and what classes all freshmen need to take. Brown said they recognized that freshmen have unique challenges that other students don’t necessarily have. As a result, he and his team looked for people who have a real spirit of doing their best work with freshmen, hiring academic advisors, career counselors, mentoring coordinators and new University Seminar instructors.
“We want every student to have a personal and intentional experience. That’s our common thread. Every student that goes through PACE will become actively involved in the process of completing a college degree. We want them to know what questions to ask and how to become the best student-graduates they can be long term,” Dr. Brown said.
For more information about PACE and Texas State’s new Academic Center, email Dr. Dann Brown at email@example.com.