Retention rates in higher education has become another competitive edge for students to determine their educational choice. It has become such an issue that there are even retention rate rankings among institutions boasting how these rates determine a student body’s dedication to their school (Online Education Database, 2011). As educators approach the rising lack of retention within their institutions, they are forced to make adjustments to their programs and methods of instruction in order to meet the growing needs of an increasingly more diverse student body.
In a time when one of four freshman will drop out of higher education (Whitbourne, 2002), administrators need to first comprehend the reasoning behind these growing numbers before attempting to solve the retention problem. Many students share the reasons to leave an educational institution vary but the greatest reasons center around poverty, high levels of debt and significant burdens of paid work. As increasingly greater numbers of older people return to higher education, they experience the added load of family life, careers, work and the pressures associated with additional commitments. These burdens cause many students to slip in and out of education as they are capable to pursue their educational goals within the confines of their responsibilities (Wistrom, 2010).
Retention strategies can vary according to the level of the student. As the student begins the enrollment process and their college education, they require more integration in the campus community. Students need to feel that their contribution is essential to their new society as they proceed in their career and educational goals. “Data show that the largest numbers of students who drop out do so during the equivalent of their first semester” (Center for Community College Engagement, 2011, para. 5). With this information, administrators then need to plan on effective retention strategies which target students within their first experiences in college life.
Faust & Poulson (2011) promote the importance of implementing active learning in the college classroom in order to facilitate retention rates. Additionally, faculty and staff need to help new students to focus on their potential instead of their challenges. Students need to be held to high expectations as they enter college life and begin their educational career. As they are supported in this aspect, they will achieve their educational goals while receiving the necessary support from their mentors. Additionally, faculty, staff and students need to remember that education is a journey which they are undertaking (Center for Community College Engagement, 2011). There will be risks and difficulties but with the proper support, they will overcome each encountered dilemma.
Faculty can boost student retention by fostering researched classroom strategies while teaching. The University of Hawaii (2011) advises educators to familiarize themselves with specific tactics to foster student retention within individual classrooms. Educators are encouraged to know each student by name. Additionally, at the end of each classroom session, teachers are asked to speak to students individually to get to know them personally as well as to get feedback on the lesson. Teachers are asked to provide consistent positive reinforcement for each contribution made to the success of a class. Active listening and effective communication skills are the foundation to many retention efforts (Hawking, 2005).
Many institution implement a variety of extensive programs to inhibit the growth of retention rates within their organization. The College of New Jersey (2011) started a program to increase retention amongst its minority students called the Minority Mentoring Program. This college noticed that many of its minority students felt exceptionally isolated on their predominantly white campus. To balance this problem, minority freshmen are introduced to minority upperclassmen who contact them throughout the summer before they begin school and throughout the school year. Additionally, students gather together for social events where they can socialize not just with fellow students but with faculty and staff as well. As a result of this program, the retention rate for minority students increased from 40 percent to 91 percent within a six year span (Hammer, 2003).
Another higher education institution implemented a program to identify potentially at risk for drop out students. The early alert referral system at Lehigh Carbon Community College (Diverse Education, 2011) uses faculty members to flag students through evaluation and observation. As students are identified, a retention staff follows up on the information through tutoring, mentoring and additionally helps from support services.
Other institutions of higher education have utilized time out of the school year in order to address potential retention problems. The Summer University Program Excellence, SUPER, by Michigan State University looks at the incoming students who are first-generation, college-bound, and/or low-income students. These students are scheduled to attend classes during the summer before the school year where they learn life-skills and learning skills. The purpose of the program is to create connections between students and staff through community (Hammer, 2003).
A variety of programs can be created to meet the needs of students by addressing their backgrounds and interests. Yet, the greatest effort in retention is accomplished through the personal touch. Administrators, faculty and staff need to know their students and collect information to effectively determine the causes of rising drop out rates. With this data, not only are programs developed to increase retention rates but students are empowered in their educational pursuits.
Center for Community College Engagement. (2011). MetLife Foundation Initiative on Student Success A New Focus on “Starting Right”. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from www.ccsse.org/retention/retention.cfm
College at New Jersey. (2011). Minority mentoring. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from www.tcnj.edu/~minment/index2.htm
Diverse Education. (2011). Award winning approaches to retention. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from diverseeducation.com/article/3860/
Faust, J. & Poulson, D. (2011). Active learning in the college classroom. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from www.calstatela.edu/dept/chem/chem2/Active/
Hammer, J. (2003). Award-winning approaches to retention: higher education consulting firm Noel-Levitz recognizes a handful of universities with the most effective retention programs. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0DXK/is_11_20/ai_106226428/
Hawking, N. (2005). Effective communication affects student achievement and retention. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3387/is_3_76/ai_n29156621/
Online Education Database. (2011). OEDb’s Online College Rankings 2009: Ranking by Retention Rate. Retrieved January 19, 2011 from http://oedb.org/rankings/retention-rate
University of Hawaii. (2011). Ideas to encourage student retention. Retrieved January 24, 2011 from honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/studretn.htm
Whitbourn, M. (2002).The dropout dilemma: One in four college freshmen drop out. What is going on here? What does it take to stay in? Retrieved January 22, 2011 from findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0BTR/is_4_22/ai_84599442/
Wistrom, E. (2010). Percentage of first year college dropout rates. Retrieved January 22, 2011 from www.brighthub.com/education/college/articles/82378.aspx
By Tracy Atkinson
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.