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SOU student affairs administration gets extreme makeover

Areorganization effort in the student affairs department at Southern Oregon University will bring sweeping staff changes when the academic year begins.

The university hopes to increase student retention and graduation rates by hiring additional staff to enhance its student support services. But redefining roles in the department means a handful of management-level positions will be replaced by lower-level, student support personnel, SOU officials said.

SOU hopes the changes will increase students' access to one-on-one advising time and mentoring and counseling focused on post-graduation success, SOU Vice President of Student Affairs Jon Eldridge said.

Four management-level positions will be eliminated, Eldridge said, including dean of students. Those responsibilities will be split among six new positions, including a director of retention or student success, which will be an administrative position, he said.

Current Dean of Students Laura O'Bryon will not fill that position, he said.

O'Bryon, who has worked for SOU for more than 15 years, was unavailable for comment Monday, according to the student affairs department. She did not return multiple emails sent to her address.

"We never confirm or deny that somebody is involved in a personnel issue ... I can say it included a handful of management-level administrators," SOU spokesman Jim Beaver said of the changes. "These staffing changes are not budget-related. We're always evaluating the effectiveness of the organization and making changes as needed for improvement."

The university is accepting applications for some of the new positions, among them a career preparation coordinator, an additional adviser for the university's student support program called Success at Southern, and a councilor in the student health center.

"All of the things we're putting into place are things that have been shown to be successful at other institutions ... academic goal-setting and planning, career preparation, early intervention when a student is not attending class or needs supplemental instruction," Eldridge said. "It enables students to stay on track not just for their degrees, but for when they get out and try to get their jobs."

Eldridge said increasing interaction between students and academic advising outlets across campus should help push the university's retention rate to 75 percent within the next two years. In 2005, the school retained 62 percent of its previous year's non-graduating student population. The school's retention rate is currently floating around 70 percent, Eldridge said.

"It goes without saying that staff reductions due to state disinvestment, coupled with student demographics that require significant levels of support, have hampered our retention efforts. This is why the following reorganization is being launched," Eldridge wrote in an email to the entire SOU staff in June.

"Unfortunately, this also means that some existing positions have given way to this new structure. It is important to state that those individuals who have received notice that their positions have been eliminated or restructured deserve our thanks for their hard work and dedication," his email continued.

Eldridge said there is a possibility of two part-time counseling positions emerging after the department settles into the reorganization.

"We just haven't had enough of them to meet student demand," Eldridge said. "The reorganization allows us to better align our resources and better serve students."

Reach Daily Tidings reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.