Student Retention on the Rise

By The Elm - Feb 22,2013@1:35 pm

By Kim Uslin
Elm Staff Writer

This past year, Washington College has enjoyed a significant spike in retention rate. The rate, which had been steadily rising since 2006, has risen from 81.5 percent in 2010 to 84.7 percent in 2011, according to WC’s 2012-2013 Fact Book.

Retention rates are measured by a calculation of how many students matriculating in their first fall semester at WC return for the next fall semester. While data concerning second to third year and third year to fourth year students is collected, it does not factor as significantly into retention efforts undertaken by the school.

“Students who come back after their first year are much more likely to persist,” said Dean DiQuinzio, associate provost for academic services.

While the retention rate spike is more significant than it has been in previous years, the rate has remained fairly steadily in the 80-85 percent range since 2006.

“We have had a much clearer idea of the numbers due to better data collection in the past five years,” said DiQuinzio.
This improved understanding has allowed the administration not only an enhanced conception of the retention statistics, but also a better idea of how to continue to advance retention rates. The administration is able to see both the number of students who leave WC and to ascertain their reasons for leaving.

“Sometimes the reasons students want to leave are things we cannot do much about, but sometimes they are things we can and should address. Students who choose to leave are given a form concerning their reasons for leaving, with a whole list of possible factors they can identify. We also conduct exit interviews which explore what students were dissatisfied with or what contributed to their leaving. With this information, we are able to collate data and pick up trends, and can see if we are able to do something about it,” said DiQuinzio.

Often, the changes the administration enact are the direct result of these observations. Many students, for instance, choose to leave WC due to its small-town atmosphere and rural location. In response to this, the administration has improved transportation services to get off campus on the weekend. They have increased the number of shuttle runs and have begun planning more day trips that afford students the opportunity to explore outside of Chestertown.

Changes in on-campus activities and programming have also been effective.

WC President Mitchell Reiss said, “[My wife] Elisabeth and I met with the entire first year class to try and get some feedback, make sure that they had a voice, including representation on the SEB.

“The freshmen are over a quarter of the student body and they didn’t have any voice about entertainment options. A lot of people have worked very hard not only to make sure there are more activities but they’re more responsive to what the students want.”

“We are meeting people’s needs,” said DiQuinzio. “I think the whole consideration about retention, especially in terms of tuition, is the issue of whether or not Washington College is worth what it costs. We have addressed that in several ways. On the student activities side, we have done more to provide different opportunities to do things that will interest them. Another place where we’ve made big investments is in is in academic support services and career development. Because of this, I think there students are seeing that the college is doing a lot to provide the support they need and connect classroom education with career opportunities.”

Reiss said, “If students were having a tough time academically to pursue their needs, it’s helpful not waiting until midterms to get them assistance. Some of them are drowning already at that point, we want to catch them just before their head goes under water.”

While it is difficult to know whether retention rate will continue to rise, DiQuinzio is optimistic.

“This increased focus on retention has been such a joint effort between the students, faculty, and administration. I’d like to see the rate go up again. I think it’s possible.”

Reiss agrees. “I don’t think you’re ever satisfied,” he said. “I don’t think you’re ever finished but you keep on trying to improve.”

The Elm

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