Original URL: http://www.brevard.edu/fyc/listserv/remarks/andersonandgates.htm
(Copy taken 24 Oct 2003. Format roughly edited to make it more printable.)

Catherine Anderson
Academic Advisor  The University of Mississippi

Charles Gates
Director of the Academic Support Center and Professor of Music
The University of Mississippi

Freshmen Absence-Based Intervention at The University of Mississippi

The University of Mississippi has developed an initiative called Freshmen Absence-Based Intervention (FABI) to monitor and study the relationship between classroom absences and student success.  The program evolved out of research conducted during the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 academic years which focused on the retention of students at the University, particularly first-year students. Coordinated by the Academic Support Center (ASC), and combining the efforts of ASC staff, graduate student clinical research assistants in the Department of Psychology, faculty and staff in the Department of English, and staff in the Chancellor's Office, the research revealed a direct correlation between student absences and student grade point average (GPA).

Based on data from the study and information obtained from student, faculty, administrator and staff focus groups, an Absence-Based Intervention Project was introduced and piloted during the 2000-2001 academic year in the department of English.  The program, which initially involved 589 students, was focused on the reporting of classroom absences and the implementation of subsequent intervention.  One goal of the Project was to establish a possible relationship between absences and success in college, specifically the correlation between absences and GPA.

Faculty involved in the project reported excessive absences at specified times during the semester via an electronic form designed by Information Technology. Students enrolled in the English 101 courses were divided into a control and intervention group.  In the Intervention Group, personal contact or "an intervention" via telephone or by a graduate student was conducted with students who had two or more absences. They were given information about the numerous support services available at the University. For the Control Group, faculty reported absences, but no intervention was conducted.

Data from this pilot program revealed a direct correlation between absences and success at the University. Students who received intervention showed a significant rate of success, specifically a better GPA, compared to the students who did not receive intervention.  Out of the total sample of students selected for intervention for telephone contact, 39% qualified for telephone intervention. In addition, 41% of those had two or more absences after only three weeks of classes. Early intervention, then, was crucial to future success during the semester.  

Further, data revealed that there were more students in the intervention group with both midterm and final grades of a "C" or better. Specifically, 87.4% of students in the intervention group obtained a "C" or better at midterm, whereas only 62% of students in the control attained such grades. Final grades revealed a more drastic difference: 87.4% of the intervention grade ended the semester with a "C" or better, where as only 55% of those did so in the control group. 

Beginning in the Fall of 2001, Freshmen Absence-Based Intervention (FABI), coordinated by Ms. Catherine Anderson, an Academic Advisor in the Academic Support Center, was introduced to the campus community as a program designed with the intent to circumvent student absences and potential student failure.  With campus implementation, certain particulars of the pilot study were changed so that program implementation could be achieved on a much larger scale.  Specifically, based on information from Counselors in the University Counseling Center, the actual delivery of the intervention was conducted in person through Resident Hall advisor contact, as opposed to telephone intervention.  In addition, the program had to be embraced by University faculty since success of the program depended on their complete cooperation.   

At the start of the fall semester, faculty received a letter from the Provost’s office introducing Freshmen Absence-Based Intervention (FABI) as a program coordinated by the Academic Support Center that targeted freshmen attendance in lower division courses.  This program was not designed to evaluate attendance policies.  Instead, the program stressed the importance of class attendance.  Absences, especially in the freshmen population, can identify students who may be having some difficulty adjusting to the responsibilities of being a university student.  In addition to letting students know that the University was indeed paying attention to them, the contact made with students provided advisors in the ASC an opportunity to discuss various support units/services available on campus.  Staff in the ASC asked faculty who taught lower division courses to report on a secure website freshmen students with excessive absences, emphasizing that instructors determined what was excessive.    

The FABI coordinator downloaded the information provided by faculty once a week beginning the second week of classes and continued the download for eight weeks.  The program ended mid-semester since determination of a student’s standing in a course was determined at that time by a mid semester grade.  After student names were downloaded and carefully checked for continued class enrollment, student names were then e-mailed to Resident Hall Advisor’s (RHA) for one-on-one intervention.  The RHA provided the student an informational packet provided by the ASC that stressed the importance of class attendance.  RHAs were asked to report back to ASC staff as soon as contact was made.  Further, neither the student nor the RHA knew which instructor reported the absences.  They only knew that an instructor reported that the student had missed classes.  The RHA contacted a student one time only.  Any additional intervention, if necessary, was made directly through ASC staff either through email or by telephone.  Similar procedures were carried out during the Spring 2002 reporting period.  

In Fall 2001, approximately 41 instructors of freshmen courses reported students with excessive absences.  245 students were contacted concerning excessive absences through RHA notification.  Among students receiving a letter grade in a course, 58% of students reported for absences and receiving RHA intervention earned a passing grade, while 42% of students reported for absences and receiving subsequent intervention failed the course.   

In Spring 2002, approximately 53 instructors of freshmen courses reported students with excessive absences.  Approximately 484 students were contacted concerning excessive absences through RHA notification.  Among students receiving a letter grade, 70% of students reported for absences and receiving subsequent intervention earned a passing grade, while 30% of students reported for absences and receiving intervention failed the course.      

This program illustrated in its first year that these particular students, identified through class attendance, were at risk when it came to class grade point average.  Although the pilot study (with control and experimental groups) suggested that such an intervention program does influence attendance and academic performance, there is not yet enough information to determine whether the program directly affects classroom success when practiced campus-wide.  Still, it was clear that this type of campus-wide intervention was indeed necessary in that it promoted open discussion of the importance of classroom attendance and University intervention concerning the actions of its freshmen students. 

Administrators, faculty and staff at The University of Mississippi have demonstrated through numerous initiatives and stated goals the intent to attract, retain and graduate its students.  For an institution striving to enhance its national profile and reputation for high quality programs and academic excellence, initiatives devoted to helping students admitted under “Liberal” admissions policies to meet higher expectations are crucial.  While the freshmen-to-sophomore retention rate at The University of Mississippi is about 76%, a good rate for institutions in our ACT admissions category, our Chancellor and Provost have set a goal of 80% freshmen-to-sophomore retention. We firmly believe the ongoing work of the Freshmen Absence-Based Intervention program will help us attain our goal. 

We wish to acknowledge the work of our colleagues at Mississippi State University's Social Science Research Center who developed and piloted an absence-based intervention program (with faculty web reporting and staff and RA contact) beginning in 1998.  Dr. David MacMillen, Mr. Ty Abernathy and Mr. John Edwards were extremely helpful as we began development of our program.  We also wish to acknowledge Mr. Jason Ferguson, UNIX/NT consultant, Office of Information Technology at the University of Mississippi for his work in development of the secure web form our faculty use to report freshmen absences and the web-to-database procedure for storing and retrieving data.

These comments were posted to the First-Year Assessment Listserv (FYA-List) on August 8, 2002. Recipients are free to forward this message to other interested persons.