(TNS) — A professor at The University of Akron said she can't understand why the school is paying a new company with limited experience, Trust Navigator, $843,000 to do a job that the university already is doing.
According to the resolution approved last week by the board of trustees, each freshman will be assigned a success coach who will "assist students in navigating the university and the collegiate experience."
Kathy Liszka, a computer science professor at The University of Akron, said she knows about the existing freshman success seminar "The Akron Experience," because she's taught it.
"The faculty and staff are trained and the experts on assisting students to navigate the university and college experience, everything from how to take quizzes, the different types of learning styles, to how to study and juggle a social life ... tell me how we're not helping our students succeed," Liszka said.
University officials said the Cleveland area company's program will not replace the class offered through the Division of Student Success, even though 54 positions were eliminated in the division last week. In all, the university eliminated 213 positions in an effort to trim $40 million over the next three years. Of those, 161 positions were filled, the others were unfilled.
Officials said the division remains intact and the Akron Experience class will continue.
UA President Scott Scarborough said the company, Trust Navigator, is a start-up entity and will provide additional help. "There was only a pilot program for the STEM program involving minority students and first-generation students and under-represented students, but this new program will work with every new student."
The company is headed by Thomas Roulston III, a descendant of a financial investment family in the Cleveland area. He recently operated his own investment companies and operated a student success program at John Carroll University.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court records show that Roulston is scheduled for a court appearance this week regarding a foreclosure on a home that involves about $900,000 in debt.
Roulston's organization was picked by a panel of five: UA Provost Mike Sherman; Stacey Moore, associate vice president of student success; Todd Rickel at the College of Applied Science and Technology; Lee Gill, chief diversity officer; and Andrew Roth, head of purchasing.
Roth said two companies bid on the job. The other, Inside Track, is a for-profit San Francisco based-company founded in 1999 by an education entrepreneur. The company wanted 54 percent more, or $1.3 million.
Both companies were interviewed by phone.
"A lot of it had to do with the hands-on approach dealing with the students,'' Roth said. ''Inside Track had an interesting app and based in California, but we were looking for a personal process with more interaction with the students. Trust Navigator is based in the Cleveland area."
It was a program that the president decided the university should have in place.
"The president felt the success coaches would be a great advantage to the success of our students to help them succeed in the beginning because it is such a difficult transition sometimes from high school and home environment to college and on your own environment," Roth said.
It took about a week to make the recommendation on which company would most likely do the best job.
Roth said they interviewed with the chief operating officer, Rob Reho and Roulston III, with Roulston doing most of the talking.
Reho has been involved in a number of Northeast Ohio companies.
Roulston, who previously sought interns for his investment business, recently shifted gears and targeted higher education. Beginning in March 2014, Roulston created a series of companies so that today there is the for-profit Trust Navigator Student Services LLC and nonprofit Trust Navigator.
Reho did not respond to a phone call or an email Monday.
The company website, www.trustnavigator.com, says that it supplies one success coach for every 150 students, but few other details.
Liszka points out that nothing on the web page explains how these coaches will help or what their credentials are.
Clicking on the "Parents" provides a brief statement on student focus. The "Events" tab offers no events. The "Student" link says the company is seeking interns for Trust Navigator.
"Life after college is Tough Enough? Will you land a job in the area of your studies? Probably not, unless you're business ready. This year 85 percent of college graduates will return home jobless," the website says.
When asked if the committee members looked at the website before making its recommendation, Roth and another committee member, Stacey Moore, said no. But Moore said she understands the company is working on making some adjustments.
Moore said there was no formal presentation by either of the two companies.
"We had to decide on whether it was something we could do internally or outsourcing," Moore said. "The hope in the future is that we can do it ourselves, but right now we don't have the capacity to pull it off. It's a new area and we need to spend more time understanding it and looking into it and learning it ourselves before we try to be the ones providing it. We would have to be hiring folks with benefits and without as much flexibility if it doesn't work ... resource-wise it would have cost much more money."
©2015 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.