As part of the Student Success Initiative of the Ohio University Strategic Framework, faculty and staff across the institution are implementing the OHIO Guarantee+ Graduation Plan, an innovative program designed to boost student recruitment by supporting retention, graduation rates, and lifelong career success.
The OHIO Guarantee+ Graduation Plan helps students graduate “on time and on plan.” Students work with their advisors to map out core academic requirements and career-enhancing opportunities such as internships, study away, service-learning, and other experiential learning.
Approximately 800 undergraduate students in 19 academic majors in seven colleges chose to participate in the program’s first cohort this fall, and the University now is working with 55 additional departments that will be part of stage 2 of the OHIO Guarantee+, which will be offered to incoming first-year students for the 2021-2022 school year. The program will be rolled out fully over the course of three years.
Many OHIO students who attend regional campuses will become eligible for the program beginning in the second cohort and in future cohorts. By fall 2022, all OHIO undergraduate students will be eligible to participate in the program.
The program, announced in January 2020, expands on the University’s successful OHIO Guarantee initiative, the first in the state of Ohio, which ensured a fixed tuition and fee rate for incoming undergraduate students. The OHIO Guarantee was implemented in 2015.
The OHIO Guarantee+ Graduation Plan is the next phase of OHIO’s commitment to affordable, career-ready educational programs. The plan provides custom graduation mapping, allowing undergraduates to stay on track in their academic coursework and focus on their career paths. In addition, the program provides alumni-only scholarships for continued education, as well as career coaching and networking for graduates.
The OHIO Guarantee+ is designed to not only help students focus on and succeed in their academic experiences in four years or less, but to make degree completion affordable and minimize student debt.
“The OHIO Guarantee+ demonstrates Ohio University’s commitment to providing a high quality and affordable education for our students. We are confident that our level of personalized academic and career advising will help students develop a plan for both curricular and experiential learning while providing the support necessary for our students to graduate on time and on plan,” said Elizabeth Sayrs, Ohio University executive vice president and provost.
OHIO Guarantee+ builds on the success of programs at the University that have a track record of guiding undergraduates through their academic experience to positive graduation and career outcomes.
A key example is the College of Business, which embeds career management in the curriculum. The college requires an internship and two career management courses, performs graduation and career audits for each student, and evaluates student progress each semester, said Jennifer Murphy, who has served as assistant dean for the college’s Career and Student Success Center.
As a result, the college watched its retention, graduation, and career placement rates grow. Since the inception of the strategies, the college’s three-year average retention rate increased 3.6 percentage points, and the four-year graduation rate rose 8.2 percentage points. The college also has a 90 percent placement rate within 90 days from graduation, and the response rate to its post-graduation survey has reached 99 percent.
“We got a lot of feedback from students about how they appreciated the additional support along the way,” Murphy said. “They are well prepared to be effective professionals and, hopefully, engaged alumni.”
Murphy has been instrumental in helping departments formally establish this system across the institution for the OHIO Guarantee+ initiative. Earlier this year, the University appointed her assistant vice provost of Guarantee+ graduation programs so she could focus on working with faculty and staff exclusively to implement the program’s various stages.
Administrative and academic units across the institution have worked collaboratively to develop, implement, and manage OHIO Guarantee+. Murphy has worked with faculty department chairs to create program milestones for each particular academic curriculum. The Office of Information Technology and the Registrar’s Office have developed processes to create the graduation plan in PeopleSoft so that students, faculty, and staff can monitor and document progress.
Faculty and staff academic advisors have worked with Murphy on how to build the infrastructure for and manage the program. Advisors will work with students to create the graduation plan, and will check in each semester to ensure that undergraduates are meeting milestones.
If a student fulfills all obligations, is on plan, but is not able to graduate on time due to the unavailability of required courses, then OHIO will offer the required courses and cover the tuition and fees for those courses or make an appropriate substitution.
Academic departments have embraced the Guarantee+ program, as they view it as a valuable marketing tool for prospective students and feel that it can help current students navigate their experience at Ohio University, Murphy said. Many departments already were using a similar approach, Murphy noted, but OHIO Guarantee+ offers an institution-wide framework that the University can comprehensively implement and market. University Communications and Marketing launched an advertising campaign for the program last winter, which included a promotion that ran during the Super Bowl.
The program provides flexibility in how each academic college can incorporate the program, Murphy noted.
“We have an ability now to customize the experience for the student by college—and that’s what is exciting,” she said.
The College of Fine Arts is participating in stage 1 of the program by offering OHIO Guarantee+ for music education and studio art majors this school year. Matthew Shaftel, dean of the College of Fine Arts, expressed enthusiasm for the program.
“The College of Fine Arts was thrilled to be part of this inaugural year of the Guarantee+ program, which has helped formalize the touchpoints our faculty have with their students as they guide and mentor each unique artist in coursework and career planning,” Shaftel said. “The additional emphasis on alumni mentorship and real-world experience enhances our continued commitment to our student’s pathway toward graduation as well as supporting their first steps after graduation. Deploying the Guarantee+ in partnership with our new slate of 1-year career-building master’s degrees, such as our Master of Arts Administration, provides a huge advantage for our students upon graduation.”
The program has been popular with eligible Ohio University students, boasting a 90 percent opt-in rate for its first cohort.
It’s a critical time in higher education for Ohio University to focus on offering the best student experience and ensuring student success, Murphy said.
“Delivering on our promise is an important aspect for a student’s return on investment,” she said. “We want them to graduate on time, on plan, and have an experience that fosters their learning inside and outside the classroom We want them to be proud Bobcats!”