UMKC is set to open Student Success Center

Every year, as many as 350 students come to the University of Missouri-Kansas City not knowing what they’ll major in. Nearly four out of five of them don’t stick around and graduate.

A new service center should help those students figure out what they want to study, university officials say, while making life easier for all students by grouping a variety of services in one place.

The Student Success Center is set to open this fall in what was the former University Center building on Rockhill Road. The building housed the campus cafeteria, Pierson Auditorium, the bookstore, meeting rooms and student organization offices. The bookstore and student organization offices are now in the Student Union on Cherry Street.

Workers gutted the building for a $7 million renovation. Much of the old brick face of its north side has been replaced with giant windows on every level.

“We tried to bring as much light as far inside the building as we possibly could,” said Greg Silkman, in charge of planning design and construction for the university facilities department.

Walls on each of the building’s three floors were removed for an open-floor concept. Offices and meeting space, with glass walls or at least large glass doors, will feel more open. Centrally placed information desks will greet students on each level to help guide them to the services they need.

Some of the offices in the new center, such as the International Academic Programs office, the writing studio and career services, previously were in separate university-owned houses just off campus. Those houses in the future may become part of UMKC’s Greek Row.

A new area called UMKC Central will be on the second floor of the center, adjacent to the new campus Welcome Center. At UMKC Central, a student can register, check on financial aid and pay bills — tuition, housing, food plan — all in one place, in a conversation with one person.

Before the new setup, students might have to go from office to office to deal with all those things.

Student service centers are a growing trend, said Dan Hurley, director of state relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Not only do they make students’ lives easier, they are “more efficient for the university because they allow the school to share administrative staff across functions,” he said.

The focal point of the new center is University College, a new program designed to provide a home on campus for students who come to college unsure of their major and without a clear career path.

UMKC officials said students who start out not knowing what they want to do academically are more at risk of dropping out.

“Universities that have a well-run university college, their retention rates and graduation rates are much higher,” said Mel Tyler, vice chancellor for student affairs.

UMKC’s graduation rate for students who come to campus undecided on a major is 18 percent, Tyler said. The overall graduation rate is 48 percent. Tyler said the goal is to increase that to 55 percent in the next four years.

Kim McNeley, who will run University College, expects it to draw freshmen, transfer students and students who didn’t like their original major and now are undecided. Students will take a series of general education courses and then transition into their area of study, once they choose a major.

“Our goal is to help them figure out a plan,” McNeley said. “Transition is hard. Our goal is to help them find that thing they are really interested in, the thing that speaks to their passion. It is hard to stay in school when you don’t know what your goal is.”