UHV University College works to improve student experience

The University of Houston-Victoria’s new University College is taking steps to help undergraduate students succeed by focusing on academic support.

“Our goal is so much more than to just help students reach success,” said Beverly Tomek, UHV associate provost and dean of the University College, which started in the fall. “We want them to go beyond success and truly thrive in their studies and the paths they’ve chosen for their lives and careers. University College is all about helping them find their way and supporting them as they study at UHV.”

Beverly Tomek

University College is the new academic home for UHV’s lower-division students. Students are part of University College until they complete more than 45 credit hours and choose a major. At that point, the student transitions into one of UHV’s three schools: Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; or Education, Health Professions & Human Development.

University College’s mission is to provide support to help students succeed. To accomplish that, UHV has made some changes in how it handles student needs, such as tutoring, academic advising and testing.

One of the more recent changes was the decision to move testing out of UHV Student Success Center and into its own area. Because services offered by the Student Success Center include social interaction such as tutoring and academic counseling, it didn’t make sense for students to take a test that required a quiet environment to be in the same area, Tomek said. With that in mind, a stand-alone tutoring office in Jaguar Village was merged with the rest of the university’s tutoring services in the Student Success Center in University West, and testing was moved to Jaguar Village. 

“We learned a lot during the first semester of the University College, and we’re making adjustments to keep helping students in the best ways possible,” Tomek said. “As we make these changes, we continually are examining the feedback we get from students at all levels of academic achievement.”

Enhanced academic advising also is getting support from University College. Academic advising is still coordinated through the different academic schools but University College has instituted an Advisors Council to better coordinate services.

In addition to services for students who need tutoring and advising, University College is working to help high achieving students, who sometimes are overlooked in terms of available services. Because gifted students can become bored and lose their passion for learning if they are not challenged, University College has launched an Honors Program that allows students in any major to take special courses and stay engaged.

Martin Valadez, a UHV freshman majoring in English, was part of University College’s “First-Year Experience Freshman Seminar” in the fall. The class helped the Victoria student learn how to organize his time and behaviors to succeed.

Martin Valadez

“My first semester was really chaotic,” Valadez said. “The hurricane set us back two weeks, so classes were using an accelerated schedule, and I had a lot of tests very quickly. It really woke me up to the need to get organized. I learned how to fight back my desire to procrastinate and be my own taskmaster when it came to getting homework done.”

In addition to helping him get organized, Valadez also learned some important social skills, and it helped him choose his major.

“I definitely have learned to be more outgoing and have gotten more socially involved on campus,” he said. “I wanted to find a degree that would let me express myself. At first, I thought about art, but then I thought of the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ and I decided to try using words to express myself.”

Advising also is an essential part of University College’s involvement in the Houston Guided Pathways to Success conglomeration. Houston GPS is a multi-entity partnership between the UH System, Texas Southern University, and area community colleges including Victoria College, Lone Star College and Wharton County Junior College, that is intended to use best practices in higher education to help students achieve success and complete their degrees in a timely manner. As part of the partnership, UHV is making three major changes through University College.

The first change is co-requisite remediation, which will replace developmental or remedial courses with more support options in regular courses. For example, instead of a student who struggles with English and writing spending time taking a remedial course that won’t count toward his degree, the student will be placed in a regular English class, and he will have access to tutoring and assistance that can help him develop the skills he needs to pass the class.

“Far too often, we have students spinning their wheels in developmental, remedial courses,” Tomek said. “Now, instead of just judging their abilities by their scores in a standardized test and putting them in these courses, students can take the same classes as others. At the same time, students will get meaningful assistance tailored to their needs instead of relying on a generic developmental course curriculum.”

Another change is re-evaluating math courses required for different degrees so students can take courses more relevant to their academic needs. The third change is offering more intensive advising for students, including a new advising software that can allow students to access services through an app.

“I would like to see advising thrive at UHV,” Tomek said. “Our main focus always is to help students succeed, and part of how we can do that is through services to help them work through their struggles.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.