Colleges Must Foster Communities To Support Retention
Student retention has always been an unpredictable phenomenon since students have been attending school and using financial aid, but more specifically it has been since the 1980s (Lau, 2003). Failure to keep students within the college or university seems to have always been inextricably linked to lack of funding or poor academic performance. However, with a struggling economy and a drastic increase in the amount of adult students attending college, retention is no longer a black and white issue; there are definitely more gray areas. Many more problems contribute to student attrition, including spousal issues, transportation, work, and issues with childcare. With more problems looming, this makes encouraging students to stay in school a tremendous challenge.
Statistics consistently show that students have a tendency to drop out after their freshman year of college (Lau, 2003). Many of these reasons are personal ones including financial circumstances or change in the academic or professional goals. However, surprisingly one of the major reasons that students leave – one that is much more controllable than those previously mentioned – is because of lack of happiness with the institution and the learning environment. Vincent Tinto, award winning Distinguished University Professor at Syracuse University of sociology, proposed in 1993 the following to ensure student success:
A) Institutional Commitment to Students
Effective retention programs are committed to the students they serve. They put student welfare ahead of other institutional goals.
B) Educational Commitment
Effective retention programs are first and foremost committed to the education of all, not just some of their students.
C) Social and Intellectual Community
Effective retention programs are committed to the development of supportive social and educational communities in which all students are integrated as competent members.
Even with his proposal, there still seems to be a disconnect, especially for new, for-profits institutions that are on the rise. ABC news reported in 2010, that over 9 billion has been spent by taxpayers for student who drop out before their sophomore year (Wagner, 2010). In order to try to avert this waste, the article reported that administrators should try to design programs that make students feel wholly involved in the college experience. One such program is the University of Florida’s Opportunity Scholars program. This program, which gives priority to minorities who are struggling with tuition, has 1,400 students; and provides them with an amazing opportunity to succeed by providing seminars on financial budgeting, career planning, and providing them with peer mentors to show them around campus (Wagner, 2010). In Canada, the Saskatchewan Party government is experimenting with a multi-million dollar plan to rebate tuition and fees to students who stay in the province and work within the area after graduation (Regina, 2008). This program works with the university system to not only encourage graduation but also provides assurance within the career planning process – one which students are often confounded by throughout their entire college years.
Graduate level students are also subject to retention issues. Students who leave these programs often leave because of the following reasons: 1) they never intended to get a upper level degree in the first place, 2) student and faculty interests aren’t the same, 3) they are frustrated with their degree program, 4) they have full-time careers in addition to schooling (Haworth, 1996). In order to address the issues with graduate students, there have been 3 tiers established to address it. They are as follows (Haworth, 1996):
Tier 1 – What the institution must do:
- Monitor progress
- Evaluate programs actual outcomes against student expectations
- Monitor adequacy of financial support
Tier 2 – What departments must do:
- Ensure adequate advising and mentoring
- Provided adequate staff support
- Allow for an “easing the way” for students in terms of procedural matters, i.e. graduation clearance process
Tier 3 – What students must do:
- Attend orientation programs
- Attend regularly scheduled dissertation workshops
- Interact with other students inter-disciplinarily when possible
- Seek out job searching opportunities on campus
In conclusion, college life is no different from functional and dysfunctional communities or families. As we can see, those schools that provide a wholesome environment in which students can thrive as individuals and socially, have lower attrition. In the same way that good neighborhoods and communities are built, administrators on campus must strive to build communities on college that ensure retention. The phrase “college town” is often used to refer to colleges in which the entire town supports the college. All colleges and universities don’t have this distinction but it should be upon administrators to develop a college town atmosphere, particularly in the surrounding community so that students can feel that the surrounding community and businesses support the college. Administrators who work in confined community college environments should strive to build relations with the surrounding community to obtain discounts at local stores for students, community service projects, support for local objectives, and most importantly job opportunities for students. It is when these objectives are achieved that the retention effort will be improved.
Haworth, J., Miller, and D., Nerad, M. (1996). Assessing Graduate and Professional Education: Current Realities, Future Prospects. Number 92, winter. Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Lau, L. (2003). Institutional Factors Affecting Retention. Retrieved on March 15, 2012 from http://is.gd/Ri74ZD.
Regina. (2008). Government Launches Student Retention Program. Retrieved on March 15, 2012 from http://is.gd/VvzELE.
Wagner, M. (2010). Colleges Get Failing Grades on Student Retention. Retrieved on March 15, 2012 from http://is.gd/3rngf6.
Author Perspective: Administrator