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Dixie State has a proposal to help students who aren’t quite ready for college

Open-door admission means access for all, but a ‘noticeable number of students’ aren’t prepared for college-level work

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Shoppers browse clothing with the Dixie State University name and logos.

People shop for clothing at Dixie State University in St. George on Friday, April 9, 2021. The university has proposed creating a University College to help students who are not ready for college-level studies, including offering advising and tutoring.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

As a dual mission institution that awards credentials that range from certificates to a handful of graduate degrees, Dixie State University “takes all comers,” explains Michael Lacourse, DSU’s vice president of academic affairs.

While open admission means there’s a place for all learners, it also means there are variations in DSU’s student body — students who are academically prepared and start the university with clear goals in sight, to students who are undecided, plan to transfer or are not prepared for the rigors of a four-year program.

“By accepting everybody, many of the students that we receive under those policies require additional academic preparation and some support systems on campus to help them become successful,” said Lacourse, who is also provost.

On Friday, Lacourse discussed a proposal to create a University College at DSU to help students who are not ready for university studies.

A Utah System of Higher Education document put it this way: “The institution has seen a noticeable number of students struggle who are not yet ready for college-level work.”

The college would provide focused advising to students who have not declared a major and help them select one, and provide tutoring and instruction in math and English that students need to be successful in academic programs.

Although the university has those systems in place, a University College would “consolidate a number of programs, initiatives and people on campus into a single unit that is specifically designed to support lower-division students, freshmen in particular,” Lacourse told the Utah Board of Higher Education’s Academic Education Committee.

Many factors contribute to students’ academic success and certificate or degree completion, such as full-time attendance, affordability and whether students take math their first year in college.

All of these issues play a role in fall-to-fall retention rates, which in Dixie State’s case was below 60% for full-time, first-time attending students in 2019, the lowest among Utah’s three dual-mission institutions which also include Weber State University and Utah Valley University.

Lacourse said there are no immediate plans to assign faculty to the University College but to instead integrate existing programs and initiatives in a single location.

“This college is designed to bring all of that together into a single functional unit,” he said.

The committee voted to forward the proposal to the full higher education board for its consideration.