College Retention Program?

Approximately 1/3 of college students do not return to school for their sophomore year and the average college graduates only fifty percent of matriculating students, in six years. For most colleges, much more money is spent per student on marketing to potential applicants than is spent on student retention. Only 43 percent of schools have student retention programs, and of these, just 25 percent of them have departments with at least one full-time employee performing that retention-related functions.

No one is interested in a “black box” service. With an aircraft that has crashed, the interpretation of data is retrospective, and the black box does not recover victims. Retention programs should know their student body, plus capture and analyze as much about their students’ real-time status as in necessary to foster success without overt personal obtrusiveness. Applicable factors may include current academic performance, financial resources, health and social challenges, and other data as may be predictive (in their setting) of successful graduation. Marginally relevant, or insufficient qualitative and quantitative information, limited or untimely data analysis, and a lack of expedient interpretation or effective follow-up action will limit the effectiveness of a program.

Questions to ask of a college, academy, or university representative.

  • Do you have an independent student retention department with its own budget?

  • How many persons does the department employ, full-time?

  • What functions does the department perform?

  • What other personnel collectively report to the student retention department to assure that all elements of student assistance plans may be enacted?

  • By what measures does the department measure its effectiveness?

  • When at-risk students are identified, are corrective services freely available for all such students?

  • When at-risk students are identified, are corrective services applied rapidly so as to favorably impact students’ performances, doing so long before the students are at risk for adverse retention decisions?

  • What are the retention and 4-year graduation rate goals of their department and the institution?

Even if the schools respond affirmatively regarding the existence of such a program, ask: “Have they met their performance goals, and if not, why not?” Also ask: “How close to 100 percent graduation rate should the school experience if their retention program were improved? Choose your college wisely. Your success matters.

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