The University of Akron's decision last year to hire a local company to supplement its student advising and mentoring staff seemed ill-fated to many observers. The company, Trust Navigator, had no other higher ed customers, and the move came soon after the university eliminated numerous positions in its student success division. And the $840,000 price tag seemed high for a university that was struggling with enrollments and revenue.
So Wednesday's announcement by the university that it would not extend the one-year contract with Trust Navigator may surprise few people.
A statement provided by the university said that a review showed the experiment with Trust Navigator's "success coaches" did not produce "an appreciable difference in the fall-to-spring retention rate for students" compared to the previous year without them. An Akron spokesperson said in an interview that fall-to-spring retention was "essentially flat" from the year before.
"Based on that review and with input from our academic leadership and student success teams and the Faculty Senate, we have decided to allow this contract to expire at the end of June," said the statement.
The statement implied that constrained finances contributed to the decision, as enrollment of new freshmen at Akron for next fall could be down by as much as a quarter from last year, based on data that show 23 percent fewer freshmen having paid a confirmation fee (like a deposit) compared to this time last year.
Akron's decision to hire Trust Navigator was embroiled in controversy from the very start. It was announced at the same Board of Trustees meeting at which the university said it would eliminate 215 nonfaculty jobs, including dozens in the student success division.
Critics also questioned the selection process the university used to choose the unproven start-up, which had no other university clients then and, according to an article in Cleveland.com, still doesn't.
Rob Reho, chief operating officer for Trust Navigator, told the website that university officials described the contract nonrenewal as a "budget decision."
"We are sad because we think we made a viable impact and helped students like we were supposed to do," Reho told Cleveland.com. "We did a lot of things outside the scope of the contract and felt we were true business partners. But we respect the decision of the university."