First-year students entering the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus this fall can expect a more personal touch, thanks to changes the university is making to its enrolment procedures. The enrolment changes are among several UBC is implementing in admissions and student-support services for undergraduates.
All new undergraduate students at UBC Vancouver will be assigned to an enrolment services professional, or ESP, who can answer questions and help students resolve problems involving financial planning, eligibility for bursaries and scholarships, emergency funding, registration and a host of other services.
“This represents a radical change for our organization,” said Lisa Collins, associate registrar and project director for the new enrolment-services model. The program, dubbed Names Not Numbers, aims to establish a stronger relationship between the university and its students and will “bring the small campus experience to what is a large campus here at UBC Vancouver,” said Ms. Collins. It will also help alert university officials should a student run into trouble, she added.
UBC is in the process of hiring 23 ESPs who will be assigned to students in June as they register for fall classes. Each ESP eventually will oversee about 300 students for the duration of their undergraduate careers. UBC expects to hire some 65 ESPs by June 2013, as the program is rolled out to include all undergraduate students at UBC Vancouver.
UBC’s enrolment services estimates that it has about 200,000 interactions with its students and prospective students each year, many of which take place online. For many students, that will continue to be the case; they may opt to meet with their ESP just once or twice over the course of their undergraduate experience, Ms. Collins said. “But for those students who would really benefit from an ongoing relationship with an ESP, we want that to be there for them.”
The project is part of a broader UBC initiative aimed at enhancing student engagement. The changes include a shift to broad-based admissions that the university announced earlier this year and a proposal to introduce a “learning plan” for all first-year students.
Learning plan in the works
The faculties of arts and sciences and the school of kinesiology already have piloted several versions of a learning plan for some of their students. UBC’s campus-wide strategy would see the program expanded to include all-first year students within the next year.
A learning plan is an organizational tool that students use to establish their learning goals. As currently configured, the UBC learning plan is divided into three parts: active learning and scholarly engagement; degree planning and career exploration; campus life and community engagement. Students are encouraged to select various workshops, seminars and activities that UBC offers throughout the year to help them meet their goals and to enter those into their learning plan.
“We give them a way of thinking about three parts of their life as an undergrad and ask them to establish some goals in these areas, to look ahead and see how they might achieve those goals,” said Paul Harrison, associate dean for students in the faculty of science.
Starting this fall, all first-year science students will receive a learning plan template as part of their orientation package. They will be assigned a peer coach – a senior student who will explain how the learning plan works. Students can refer to it throughout the year when they meet with their peer coach and with academic advisers, professors and other staff, all of whom can help students shape the plan, spot weaknesses and point out opportunities students may have overlooked. Students will be encouraged to update and revise the plan regularly. Dr. Harrison would like to see it become an online tool that students can use throughout their academic careers. Arts students can already access their learning plans online.
The broad-based admissions process that UBC adopted this year for its Vancouver campus requires applicants to UBC to submit, along with their high-school marks, a personal profile. The profile involves answering several questions that are designed to give the university a better understanding of an applicant’s personal characteristics and non-academic strengths. Ms. Collins, the associate registrar, said the transition to the new application process has gone smoothly. “We are learning a lot more about our students,” said Ms. Collins, who acts as one of the readers of personal profiles.
UBC saw a drop of 12 percent in the number of applications it received this year from last, she said, most likely because the new application is more involved and takes longer to complete. Other institutions that have moved to broad-based admissions have experienced similar declines, she noted. UBC receives about 300,000 applications to undergraduate programs a year and last year enrolled 5,900 new first-year students.
“We will be analyzing this year’s admission cycle data to see whether the type of applicant also changed,” said Ms. Collins, but added that UBC is confident that its “applicant pool remains strong and admission is still a highly competitive process at UBC.”
My first year at UBC in the early 1980s included some of the features you announce as new to UBC today. I guess they were dropped along the way and now return. One was a visit to the office, in Buchanan, of Art Dusing. I hope I have the first name, but certainly the last — students would say, “I have to go see Dusing” — is correct. This man was at his post and looked over your course choices to make sure they were in accord with program expectations. Now, I wouldn’t say he was the kind of hands-on, caring type described as the new model. But he did his job admirably and I always thought of it as part of the university’s goal to help students deal with their own expectations with care. When I go by Buchanan I commune with his absent, attentive self. Certainly, back then, too, the application to Arts included a personal statement. I wrote that and remember thinking about its contents. I respected the fact that the application was not just a red line under my high school marks.