Who Really Cares About Retention?
Society’s influence on elementary and secondary students has left many of our young people less than prepared for college. The poor academic preparation of incoming freshman also has made retaining these students at the postsecondary level more difficult. If higher education is going to embrace these students, it is important for institutions to establish a campus-wide commitment to retention while simultaneously implementing a variety of strategies to help students accomplish their educational goals. Colleges and universities must construct a learning environment that offers the best chance for all students to progress, regardless of their class or color. Colleges must first have campus-wide awareness of the importance of retaining its students. Stakeholders should include faculty, students service providers, administrators, trustees, the college president, counselors, advisors, taxpayers, support staff and students. Only then can the commitment be reflected in college services, procedures, personnel attitudes as well as campus policies. Arriving at this commitment involves introspection. Campus leaders must ask: What is it that drives our college campus most? Is it student centered or full-time employee driven? What are our president’s priorities? Are retention-focused values reflected in our college in-service and staff development activities? Does our college have a strong commitment to a diverse faculty and staff? Step One: One of the most important steps in the retention process begins the first week students are on campus. It is then that they get a feel for the spirit of an institution. The people conducting enrollment and orientation activities should be friendly, communicative and enthusiastic. Orientation sessions are usually when students learn about the college, its mission, expectations, standards, accomplishments, and basically how the system works, but they also offer a good opportunity to share information about scholarships and financial aid, campus services, and course selection.Counseling Services: Such services can facilitate the campus retention management system by obtaining valuable information about the learning styles, study strategies and educational plans of students. Many colleges utilize the skills of instructors to assist in the advising process, which helps students get acquainted with them before classes begin. It also helps students to view instructors as regular people who are concerned about them.Students should meet regularly with their advisors and counselors to work on occupational goals, student success strategies, personal issues, job placement, tutorial needs and financial aid.Tutorial Services: These services must be connected to the overall campus activity and curriculum, and should be available at times when students need them most. An adequate number of tutors in each subject also are necessary.Instruction: Faculty are the most important part of a student’s academic experience and, therefore, have a tremendous affect on retention and college success. Their effectiveness involves recognizing and understanding different student learning styles and being helpful to students in dealing with their failures. They must be sensitive to this and open to presenting information in ways that accommodate different learning styles.Research: Collecting data on students is good when it is used to improve student services — and to better understand students’ needs. Gathering data also helps the institution stay in touch with students’ thoughts about their campus experience. The information is most beneficial when the results are shared with the entire campus, so that everyone understands the students they work for and why changes or modifications are being made.Making Retention Count: Developing policies and practices that enhance student success is great. But what an institution does to support those policies on a behavioral level is of greater significance. Assessing this commitment involves asking questions like how much money is designated for retention activities? Is there a campus retention committee? Does the college have a retention plan? Is there a driving force behind this effort and how is it evaluated? Follow-through is as important as a supportive budget and a capable staff.We must remember that it is not what we say, but what we do about retention that really counts.—Dr. Carl Parker is a vocational counselor at Portland Community College-Cascade Campus
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