The Art of Retaining Students

The Art of Retaining StudentsIt makes sense that as students matriculate through college, their chances of graduating increase. It’s the first two years of college when students are most at risk of dropping out. Many students enroll in college unprepared for the rigors of higher education. Some are unprepared socially. Others haven’t figured out how they are going to finance their education beyond their freshman year, and hence find themselves in trouble with the financial aid office.
Therefore, colleges and universities will always be striving to perfect the art of retaining students. And even if every institution of higher education admitted and enrolled the most academically, ethnically, geographically and economically diverse student body, they would have to find a way to keep them on campus and graduate their students. As you will read in this annual Recruitment and Retention edition, that takes creativity and innovation.
Students often leave for reasons that are out of the school’s control. But if schools had the appropriate measures in place, they probably would be able to retain more of their students. I interviewed two students attending an HBCU awhile back who were on academic probation and therefore, being made to go through the university’s retention program.
As we discussed their academic difficulties, I was surprised that their problems stemmed not from being academically unprepared, but rather unable to deal with their newfound freedom as college students. They said they spent a good part of the day sleeping, among other things, none of which included their classwork. But because of the retention program the university had in place, academic counselors were flagged when the students’ freshman grade-point averages dropped below a certain point. Fortunately, for the students, the school got to them before it was too late and they were given an opportunity to bring up their grades with the help of regularly scheduled meetings with faculty-mentors.
Having an effective retention program in place is important for all schools, regardless of their academic selectivity. All students can benefit from a school that pays close attention to their academic standing, particularly during those crucial freshman and sophomore years. Dropping out of school, as I mentioned earlier, may not always be related to poor academic performance. Students of color can often experience feelings of isolation on certain campuses. Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, who also might be first-generation college students, may feel out of place and perhaps need more personal and academic guidance than other college students.
In this special report, Cheryl D. Fields profiles two recruitment and retention programs: the University of Kansas’ HAWK Link program, launched in 1998 when the minority freshman retention rate was 12 percent lower than that of other freshmen, is experiencing impressive results. And the Posse Foundation, which takes students who don’t fit the typical merit scholarship profile and sends them as teams to competitive colleges around the nation, has many success stories to be proud of as well.
And although the online distance-learning market is still relatively new, and online retention data is somewhat hard to come by, senior writer Ronald Roach discovers that online education officials are working hard to get retention right in an industry which estimates that it may eventually capture as much as 20 percent of U.S. higher education enrollments.
Lastly, Kendra Hamilton in Faculty Club looks at the dual dilemma of Black faculty — working to ensure access, while at the same time, making the academy hospitable to minority faculty and students. 



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