This school year, Miami University's Student Success Center welcomed its inaugural class for the new GradU8 program. The program was created to help in-state students graduate in eight semesters and improve Miami's retention rate.
Ashley Hopkins, senior assistant director at the Student Success Center, works directly with GradU8 students and meets with them at least twice per semester.
"The goal is really to help [students] graduate in as little time as possible and to move on successfully to the next step in life - whatever that is for them," Hopkins said.
In addition to meeting with Hopkins, students in the program must enroll in 15 credit hours each semester to graduate in eight semesters. They also must enroll in the one-credit-hour GradU8 course "Introduction to Strategic Learning Tools" during their first year.
Craig Bennett, director of the Student Success Center, began developing the GradU8 program last year.
"I hope it helps our in-state graduation rates," Bennett said. "It's primarily good for students, but then as a whole, it shows that Miami University graduates Ohio students at a high rate."
If Miami keeps 37 more students, Bennett said, the retention rate goes up by 1 percent. The GradU8 program offered admission to 242 Ohio students. 225 students are enrolled for the year.
These students were admitted to the program based on data provided by the Office of Admission.
"We looked at students holistically," Hopkins said. "So from their admission essay, their full admission profile, their FAFSA information, really looking for students who would contribute to the program as strong scholars, but who would also make the most of the scholarship opportunity."
One of the benefits of the program is a book scholarship. Bennett estimates that the scholarship will be between $200 and $300, depending on how many students meet the scholarship requirements.
The scholarship is accessible to students on the condition that they maintain a GPA of 2.8 and earn 12 credit hours during their first semester. After the first semester, students must earn 15 credit hours with a GPA of 3.0.
"We want this program to have some teeth so that students are like, 'yeah, I want to keep coming back,'" Bennett said.
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Hopkins said that as long as the requirements are met, the scholarship can be renewed every semester and is included in students' financial aid packages.
First-year Lauren Haus, majoring in psychology, is currently enrolled in the program. She said she really enjoys the access she gets to the trained upperclassmen "learning partners."
"We got a peer leader for small group and that's probably my favorite part," Haus said. "I think it's just a really good resource to have."
Hopkins described the learning partners as "a cross between a peer mentor and an UA" to help GradU8 students learn about on-campus resources. The learning partners lead small groups during the class, as well as schedule one-on-one and group activities outside of class.
Hopkins said learning partners must go through an interview process as well as a training program that she is helping develop. The topics covered in the training program include how to use campus resources and make referrals, issues surrounding diversity, time keeping and record keeping. Partners have completed five hours of training and expect to complete an additional hour every week of the semester.
Peer leaders are only one of the many resources available to students in the class. The class covers lessons like academic goals, career goals, money management, academic advising, course registration and academic resources. Bennett said the Center for Career Exploration and Success will also help students connect with job shadowing opportunities over winter term.
"It's been really great working one-on-one with so many amazing, great students," Hopkins said. "We have a great class that came in this year in general. And so it's been really great to get to meet all of them and be in the classroom with them."