Dismissals from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln have been increasing since 2008, with about 650 student dismissals in 2013.

A major cause is academic probation.

“I do believe most of our students who are dismissed, probably are dismissed for academic reasons,” said Bill Watts, the director of University Advising and Career Services.

In 2008, 453 students were dismissed from UNL. Since then, 3,447 students have been dismissed. Another reason for dismissal other than academic probation is judicial reasons, Watts said.

Last fall, the university brought in Heather Ockenfels to be the director of First Year Experience and Transition Programs.

Watts said before Ockenfels came to UNL, a team was assembled to review the probation process and policies and make the appropriate recommendations.

“We made recommendations around ways that we could enhance our processes around probation to increase a student’s likelihood of returning to good standing and achieving academic success,” Watts said.

The goal of the program is to help reduce the number of students dismissed from UNL on account of academic probation. In January alone, more than 1,300 students were helped.

“We have adopted a very proactive approach,” Ockenfels said.

Ockenfels came to UNL last fall from the University of Iowa, where she helped to build a successful Academic Recovery Program. She and Watts work together on the program, which is set up to work with students to get them out of academic probation.

The university places a student on Probation I if his or her term and cumulative GPA drops below 2.0. Once a student is placed on probation, a hold is placed on all future registrations and the student has to demonstrate academic progress by completing a semester with both a semester and a cumulative GPA above the 2.0 minimum. If a student fails to do this he or she will be placed on Probation II. A student will be dismissed from UNL if he or she spends three consecutive semesters on probation according to the undergraduate bulletin.

When students join this Academic Probation Recovery program, they fill out a self-assessment on why they think they’re not succeeding academically. They then have the freedom to choose their own academic recovery coach who meets with them and creates an Academic Recovery Plan.

Both Ockenfels and Watts feel that the program is very successful in creating a plan that’s unique and tailor-made for each student.

“We know each student is different in what they need to be successful,” Ockenfels said.

“It might be issues with adjustment to college and maybe they were struggling with time management and when to study and how to study. So that student and that recovery coach might develop a plan that’s more around some of the workshops that First Year Experience is doing,” Watts said.

The amount of time spent with each student varies depending on the student.

“We can work with a student on a bi-weekly basis, every couple of weeks, or maybe just touch base a couple of times a semester,” Ockenfels said.

While it may be too early to accurately judge the lasting impact First Year Experience and Transition Programs will have on students struggling with academic probation, Ockenfels is confident in the impact that her team is making to reduce the number of students dismissed from campus due to academic probation.

“I am extremely proud to have the support of UNL administration and work collaboratively with academic advisors across campus to change how we support students. Students should know that we are a great starting point if they are struggling academically,” she said.

For now, Ockenfels is keeping her focus on the goal, which is to “Keep ‘em here and keep ‘em committed.”