University looking to retain more students

Ryan Loew

University administrators are looking at ways to keep freshmen coming back.

The student retention initiative is designed to stabilize university enrollment and identify roadblocks to would-be college drop-outs.

“If we don’t communicate well with students, if people don’t get answers to questions, people may not return,” said Pete Goldsmith, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs.

While working to improve student retention is an ongoing process, there has been a renewed emphasis on it since President Carol Cartwright’s university address last October, Goldsmith said.

The retention initiative has been part of several university areas, including Residence Services, Dining Services and Academic Affairs, said Sally Kandel, associate vice president of Research Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. Kandel said she would like students to feel more connected to the university through First-Year Experience programs and learning communities.

“It touches really every division,” she said. “Everyone is considering in their own world, ‘What can I do to impact retention?’”

Student retention is measured by the number of freshman students who return for a second year, said Wayne Schneider, senior institutional research information officer for the research group. For Fall 2003, there was a 71.7 percent one year retention rate, down 1.2 percent from the Fall 2002 rate of 72.9 percent.

If Kent State had retained 46 more students from the 2003 class, the retention rate would not have declined, Schneider said. While seemingly small, the number equates about $300,000 in lost revenue.

“Every student you lose, you lose the tuition, student fees and subsidies they provide,” Goldsmith said. “We just lose a person who’s made a commitment to come to this university.”

Goldsmith said the university is trying to contact students who have left and analyze national trends and data of why students drop out.

National trends in student retention vary, Goldsmith said, but Kent State is about average.

“We certainly are in the ballpark for schools of our type and size,” he said. “But we think we can do better.”

Two years ago the university research group conducted a phone survey with Kent State drop-outs, Schneider said, and students cited academic problems as a reoccurring issue.

“We found out that the students (who) selected academics as an issue also had other problems,” he said. “So we think that when you have problems in the classroom, it adds stress dimensions to your life.”

Some other barriers include problems with finances, commuting, course availability and scheduling, Goldsmith said.

The retention initiative “Is to figure out what barriers might prevent students from staying,” he said, “and how we can remove those barriers. There is no silver bullet. There is no single issue that prevents students from staying.”

Goldsmith said he hopes to see results of the initiative by the fall.

“This is really more of a refocusing work,” he said. “It’s an examination of how we work.”

Contact administration reporter Ryan Loew at [email protected].