Campus Caring

This year's top trend: more personal attention to students

When it comes to campus trends in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, all eyes are turning to the student as an individual.

Be it the inevitable awareness that students, in particular, are struggling with the startling fallout of this challenging economy or simply an acknowledgment that higher education is being forced to evolve away from the cold bureaucratic model in order to better compete, change is certainly afoot on area campuses this fall.

Nowhere is this trend clearer than at the Mount.

“Beginning this fall at the College of Mount St. Joseph, every incoming freshman will be paired with a professional staff or faculty member who will be the student’s ‘Success Coach’ for the first year of college,” says Betheny Herr, the school's communications manager. “The coach is intended to be a mentor, resource and friend.”

The student and coach are to meet every week for 30 to 45 minutes to discuss the transition through the freshman year, Herr notes. “The goal is that the coach will help the student problem-solve; answer questions about the Mount system; and be another support to the student.”

The success coach, Herr is quick to point out, isn’t intended to replace tutors, counselors or traditional academic advisors. It’s simply a new support system, an extra layer of comfort.

The larger campuses are no stranger to the thought of student-centric change and an increased focus on serving individual needs.

“Schools are looking to dramatically supplement their courses schedules with online offerings,” explains Chris Cole, a spokesperson at Northern Kentucky University. “They can do so despite space limitations and at a lower cost than traditional in-class enrollment.”

Making more out of less is certainly a given concept on area campuses these days. That often involves employing off-campus public resources such as museums.

“When our doctoral residencies take place, they use the exhibitions and collections at the Freedom Center, Art Museum and Contemporary Arts Center as part of the curriculum,” observes Nicole Hamilton, public relations manager at the Union Institute & University. “For example, recently the Ph.D. candidates had a choice of attending exhibits at the Freedom Center or CAC, and afterwards they got together to talk about what they had learned in a sort of round-table discussion. (We) have also held open mic/poetry readings at Rohs Street Cafe. Faculty and learners take part in this. Arnold’s has become a real gathering place, too.”

Hamilton adds that the U.S. Department of Education “considers adults to be the largest/fastest growing educational demographic, and we’ve found that adults want to learn differently, by being active in their community and using it as a tool for learning.”

One area that's blossoming is the world of social media, which plays into the trend toward treating the student as an individual rather than as a statistic. It’s a case of textbook finally meeting Facebook.

“Classrooms are escaping from the traditional lecture style and becoming more interactive, especially through technology and social media,” says NKU’s Cole. “Professors are beginning to interact with students through social media and hand-helds during class.”

Specialized colleges are identifying trends and topics unique to their campuses, some led by economic conditions and some not.

“We have a lot more high school students spending time on our campus in the summer as a prep to the college scene,” reports Troy Brown at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. “It seems area colleges are more attractive due to out-of-state education costs. Art programming in the summer for high schoolers is becoming the next big thing for college admissions.”

Of course, whenever you speak with local colleges of any stripe, what it comes down to is adapting to enrollment numbers in whatever categories and strategies that might arise.

“The key thing with us is enrollment growth. It’s been nothing short of phenomenal,” says Robert White, media relations and communications coordinator at Cincinnati State, which has witnessed a 26 percent hike in student growth this past year. Many students, he says, are steering toward fields such as storm-water and green technologies — not such a bad idea, White observes, given The Enquirer’s recent reporting on the Metropolitan Sewer District embarking on a multi-billion dollar renovation plan that will become nothing short of the largest public works project in Hamilton County history.

On any college campus, the ultimate service to the individual student is the learning facilities themselves. At Xavier University, this philosophy is being taken to a whole new level with the opening of the new James E. Hoff Academic Quad. The quad includes the new Michael J. Conaton Learning Commons, Discovery Services and the math and writing labs.

The Conaton Learning Commons “includes forward-learning flexibililty and cutting-edge technology combined with appropriate spaces for both collaborative and individual learning,” according to Xavier spokesperson Debora Del Valle. “It's also a highly social center for learning outside the classroom.”

Features of the 84,000-square-foot, five-story Learning Commons include a digital media lab, auditorium, cafe and wireless classrooms equipped with plasma screens.

Another aspect of the Hoff Academic Quad is the new Williams College of Business building, a four-story facility with 105 offices, 17 technology-driven classrooms and 17 project work rooms, as well as construction of a new residence hall.