Thursday, September 28

University responding to ‘Covid gap’ as more freshmen face academic probation this semester

By Grace Beckner


Students who spent nearly one-third of their critical high school years impacted by a global pandemic have just finished their first semester of college. 

As universities across the United States begin to wrestle with what this “learning loss” means, Trevecca is finding itself facing an increase in freshmen on academic probation.

“There are students that come to me and say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m prepared for college. I don’t feel like my high school prepared me for college,’” said Michelle Gaertner, associate dean of student success. “So I get individual conversations with students like that.”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported declines in American students’ knowledge and widening gaps between the highest and lowest scoring students.

According to Gaertner, 3% of the student body is on academic probation for the spring 2023 semester with 10% of that group composed of freshmen.

A year ago, during the spring of 2022, 2% of total students were on academic probation with  5% of those being freshmen.

At Trevecca, there are certain GPA benchmarks students in each class are expected to meet. For freshmen, it is a 1.6 GPA, for sophomores it is a 1.8 GPA, for juniors it is a 1.95 GPA, and seniors need a GPA of 2.0 to graduate.

“So if you fall below those benchmarks in those classifications, then that is what lands students on probation,” said Gaertner.

Gaertner said this system is all about wanting students to succeed, so she views academic probation as a way to alert students to their situation and ensure they are given opportunities to increase their GPA.

Trevecca’s freshman retention numbers between semesters is slightly below average for the university. This year’s retention rate between December and January for freshmen was 93%. 

The average fall to spring retention rate for freshmen over the past 12 years was 93.5%. At its peak, the retention rate for this group hit 96%, but at its lowest, the freshmen fall to spring retention rate was 91%.

“We really worked hard to get ahead of this game,” said Gaertner. “We got really tired of the word ‘pivot,’ because we were just shifting and changing, trying to figure out how we can support these students.”

Instead of responding to every situation as it came up, Gaertner said the student success team formed a sort of “retention team,” whose goal was to identify where the deficiencies were and figure out how student development could come alongside students to implement strategies. 

She said they wanted to know what to expect in advance so that proactive action could be taken.

“We’ve automatically seen a decline in English and math pre-Covid,” said Gaertner. “We are just going to see a little bit more of that because they didn’t have it during their junior year of high school.”

This year’s freshmen class would have been sophomores three years ago when the pandemic hit, meaning they would have experienced an unprecedented junior year, widely thought to be the most important year of high school.

“They’re not in the classrooms with teachers, learning these real developmental pieces. So we went to work,” Gaertner said.

Gaertner said it is hard to know if students are ready for college before they get there. For her, qualities such as grit in a student have a lot to say about success in college, and standardized testing “is not a true determination.”

“I think there is some validity. I just don’t want students to get caught up in defining whether they can be successful or not,” said Gaertner.

Conversations surrounding standardized testing and its place in the admissions process has been an ongoing debate, Gaertner said. 

Trevecca moved to a test-optional admissions process as a response to the pandemic and the availability of SAT or ACT tests offered to students. While there are still minimum GPA requirements in order to apply and be accepted into Trevecca, Gaertner said there “possibly” could have been students admitted who might not have been pre-Covid.

“We care enough about you that we want to reach out and we want to help,” said Gaertner. “So if we didn’t say anything, then that doesn’t really prove we care.”

The partnership between the center for student development and professors has been encouraging for Gaertner, and it has helped direct her attention to students who might need some resources to be successful.

“I have seen professors really reaching out and contacting me, contacting our department, contacting academic services,” said Gaertner. “I think when they start to see students, they may have a little bit more concern about them due to the Covid learning gap. I think they are trying to recognize them or stay alert a little more and then say, ‘Let’s get them in resources.’”

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