OneUSF Guiding Students from Academic Distress to Graduation

Academic Advocate

“I cannot even begin to explain! Because of you, I have made it this far.” These sentiments from a grateful student who received assistance from the Office of Academic Advocacy represent the hundreds of students who receive guidance and support when facing academic distress and barriers to graduation.

The Office of Academic Advocacy (OAA) supports students who are struggling academically. Referrals may be sent by faculty, advisors or other campus partners, while OAA also proactively looks at predictive factors to identify students who are at risk from progressing to graduation.

In the 2020 – 2021 academic year OAA received 3,382 referrals, almost a 13% increase from the prior year.

Academic Advocates work with students to review and uncover academic and institutional challenges, discuss options and collaborate with colleges and departments to find resolutions and help students map out a plan for success, and improve progression to graduation. Students encounter barriers that run the gamut from financial, psychological and health related issues to academic assistance needs such as tutoring and writing help, navigating processes and more.

The OAA serves as a model for OneUSF. OAA at the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses partnered together to ensure all students have access to the full range of academic services regardless of their campus.  By incorporating consistent advocate referral processes, sharing the OAA SMART dashboard, reviewing data, identifying students, and providing proactive outreach, OAA drives increased retention and graduation rates across the campuses as stated in the department goals.

The First Year Retention report and Beginning College Survey of Student Engagement are two data sources that that are used to assist advocates with identifying at-risk students early which are administered similar at all campuses.  Now all campuses have consistent practices and procedures to support students with their academic progression.

OAA received this “thank you” from a recent graduate, “I’m finally adjusted to the post-grad life after a hard year because of the pandemic. I want to say thank you for everything you did for me my last year of school. I’m sitting on a balcony in Hawaii right now just overwhelmed with gratitude. You helped a really lost person find her way into this world. I get to work and travel because of your heart to help others and I’m eternally grateful.”

OAA was instrumental in working with students to obtain computers at the beginning of the pandemic lock down. They were also involved in connecting students to a variety of financial supports in the last year such as the Cares Act scholarships and Helios grant.  The OAA is represented on the Don’t Stop, Don’t Drop committee, which provides financial assistance to those who may not be able to graduate due to financial barriers. The advocates have working relationships with students and many students were pleasantly surprised to hear about financial support opportunities.

All three campuses advocacy teams meet each spring to collaborate and share best practices. This sets the foundation for a OneUSF partnership that continues to flourish and help USF students across Tampa Bay succeed in their academic pursuits.