About 200 higher education officials turned out Wednesday to learn how to keep students in school and how to best use technology during the sixth annual Arkansas Student Success Symposium at the University of Central Arkansas.

"The reason we have these (symposiums) is to renew our focus for supporting and helping students," said Becca Chism, instructor of developmental reading at Pulaski Technical College.

The symposium — filled with workshops on a variety of educational issues — is an annual statewide gathering of faculty, staff and administrators from two- and four-year higher education institutions. Representatives this year came from 14 different four-year schools and 11 two-year schools, both public and private, said Julia Winden Fey, associate vice-president of Enrollment Management.

UCA has hosted the event for the past five years.

Educators said the symposium refocused them on helping students — a key for boosting retention at universities statewide, they said.

"We do a good job in Arkansas of getting kids into college, we don’t do a good job getting them through college," Winden Fey said.

If UCA wants to grow and wants students to be successful, the university must keep the students in school and encourage them to succeed, Winden Fey said.

UCA has a retention rate of about 40 percent for cohort year 2006, according to a report from the state higher education department. That means a large portion of students drop out without graduating. UCA trustees said last week, they want to see those numbers reversed.

At symposium, attendees learned students need more information earlier about what they should do to graduate and whether they are "on track" to graduating or reaching their goals. Keynote speaker Mark Milliron, chancellor of Western Governors University in Texas, said universities should use more technology to cut textbook costs, track students and promote alternative studying and learning.

UCA has a pilot program to help track students and keep them in school, but only a small percent of faculty used the technology, officials said during the UCA trustee retreat last week. The university is making strides in better using technology, including some textbooks offered on a digital reader, said Marie Smallwood, an advisor at UCA’s College of Education.

For example, she said the pilot program is "a very good effort." But, universities must make sure people know how to use the technology, she said.

"You can have the best thing in the world, but you have to have people use it," Smallwood said.

Winden Fey said among the messages at the symposium is that different populations of students have different needs. One-size solutions don’t fit everyone, she said.

The symposium had about six workshops, not counting special speakers and updates on higher education issues. Arkansas Higher Education Director Shane Broadway was at the event, along with other experts.

Several attendees said the event was a success. They networked, learned about new ideas and thought about students, they said.

"How do we keep them in school, keep them on track, get them to graduate?" said Jodi Ellen McAdams, associate professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

That’s why the symposium matters, she said.

(Staff writer Scarlet Sims can be reached by email at scarlet.sims@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1246. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)