Texas A&M University’s College of Engineering is working on an ambitious initiative called 25 by 25, with a goal of almost doubling enrollment to 25,000 students by 2025. “When Dean Banks came on board, she put some aggressive plans in place, including 25 by 25,” says Ed Pierson, chief information officer at the college. “She laid out a great plan for us to focus on student retention and to expand and enhance our program to better suit today’s students.”
Better communication = higher retention
Current retention is around 60 percent; Dean Banks wants to bring that up to 75 percent by focusing on students who transfer out of engineering to other colleges within A&M. The first step? Determining why students were changing majors.
“A lot of it revolved around a simple misunderstanding of the various types of engineering,” says Pierson. For instance, lots of students were not sure of exactly what a particular branch of engineering did so they may have selected a major that really didn’t fit them well, and that could cause them to transfer out of engineering.”
The department revised the freshman program so that students are no longer required to choose a major before they arrive. Now, during the first semester and half of the second semester, they learn about different engineering disciplines, talk with juniors and seniors and industry people, and gain insight about the various majors and their requirements so they can choose their major toward the end of their first year. Pierson says they’re already seeing positive benefits from this simple change and believes it will significantly improve retention.
Use data to add more programs
Another way the college is driving growth is by expanding career options such as ocean engineering to include the Galveston campus. “It’s one of the few ocean engineering programs in the country,” says Pierson. They also built a new campus in South Texas to reach students in the Texas valley.
The college’s Engineering Academy program is another way they are increasing enrollment. It’s a co-enrollment program with community colleges in Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. Students take math, science, and core courses at their local community college and engineering courses from Texas A&M professors. They can spend up to two years at their community college before transitioning full time to Texas A&M to finish their bachelor’s degree. “Students get to live at home and save money for the first two years while getting a standard A&M engineering curriculum,” says Pierson. “It’s a wonderful and diverse cohort.” When fully deployed, there will be 1,500 students in the Engineering Academy, and most of them will go to Texas A&M after their freshmen or sophomore year.
Revamp classes and update facilities
Two of Dean Banks’ other improvements have been revitalizing instruction and infrastructure. “She wanted to use technology and change pedagogy in ways that make more sense and effect student outcomes,” says Pierson. “Remember that 600-person chemistry class with a small figure at the front of the room? That’s not Dr. Banks’ vision.” On the contrary, Dean Banks implemented an under-100 class size; most classes are 50 students or less.
Dean Banks also renovated an engineering building, more than doubling its size to 525,000 square feet. The new building will house 37 learning centers, 60,000 square feet of maker space, common laboratories, and the latest technology. “Our faculty will be able to offer active learning opportunities. The technology will allow them to deliver content in ways that are more conducive to today’s students.”
Rather than desks, the classrooms will have work tables from Steelcase that are geared for collaboration with screens that rise up, as well as distance-lecture capability.
Modernize IT to streamline processes and better serve everyone
The college centralized its IT and is improving as many processes as it can. “When I came here four years ago, people carried paper around to ask for signatures,” says Pierson. “Now we use tools like Laserfiche to initial documents electronically. No more chasing people down. These tools help get staff excited and lead to productivity gains.”
Because they can’t increase support staff at the same rate as they aim to grow enrollment, the HR department asked IT to automate the hiring process. “We also leveraged Laserfiche to completely digitize the application process,” says Chris Huff, an IT professional. “Materials are submitted online and are routed electronically. We’ve even automated emails so HR doesn’t have to type the same thing over and over again.”
Huff says these and other changes have led to more automation and increased satisfaction. “It’s been a huge success,” he says. “We’ve saved about $300,000 through hiring almost 10,000 employees. Other departments are now asking us to improve their inefficient processes.”