interACT

With the national college dropout rate hovering around 45%, we are constantly left wondering what else can be done to retain students.  It’s obvious that in these economic times, the number one reason students leave school is due to financial difficulties.  And while the discussions will continue on how to cut (or freeze) tuition prices, offer more financial aid, or provide other alternatives to combating this issue, there are other avenues that institutions can walk down to aid in retention.

With students ranking homesickness, academic unpreparedness, and lack of mentorship as other key issues affecting their decision to leave college, institutions have an array of [largely cost free] options at their fingertips.

 Homesickness:

Entering college is one of the toughest transitions that a person will encounter in their life.  Resident Assistants are the first line of social defense here for those students opting to live on campus, and they truly do provide an awesome service.   But, what about pulling counseling services out of their office and setting up shop a few days a week in different residence halls?  Sometimes it’s best not to have students come to you, but rather, go to them.  Students can be ashamed that they miss home so much that they’re embarrassed to come in for a session.  Letting them know that someone is there and wants to talk could be just the push they need.

 Academic Unpreparedness:

High school is tough.  College is harder.  Despite rigorous honors and AP courses, some students still aren’t prepared for the level of work required.  Bolster writing centers, centers for academic achievement, tutoring programs, and student-professor interaction across campus.  I was lucky enough to have numerous professors who were willing to give out their personal cells in the beginning of the semester in an effort to promote interaction with students.

The aforementioned resources represent the academic line of defense.  Make sure your writing centers aren’t just places to edit papers.  The director I worked for @SalisburyU taught us to teach writing “as a life skill, because it is.”  With writing being one of the key reasons students struggle in college, this statement couldn’t be truer.  Additionally, all of these resources offer a peer-to-peer relationship as opposed to meeting with a professor.  The opportunity to enhance these programs and effectively train student staff is, in my belief, the greatest asset a university has.

 Mentorship:

Just like students in the past, students today yearn for mentorship.  I can’t even count the number of friends I had leaving high school and in my first year of college who were on pre-med or pre-law tracks (and yes, I was one of them).  But, I was lucky enough to have declared a major (English) that required us to have one-on-one academic advising sessions with a faculty member from our program.  Not all students (even at my school) were so lucky.  My interactions with my advisor eventually led me away from pre-law and influenced me to focus on marketing, now one of my largest passions.

Sure, we thrive on Facebook and Twitter and can get all the information we need out of an email, but face-to-face advising is certainly a key to retention success.  I learned a lot about myself through interactions with my mentor, and I was able to select classes in a way that allowed me to graduate a semester early.  I also took my concerns to them, looked to them for guidance, and took all of their advice seriously.  I know that it is incredibly tough for large universities to provide an advisor for each student—in fact, in many cases, it’s impossible.  But, even providing a sense of commonality among students by mentoring groups with similar interests can enhance the success of a student.

 So, what’s the theme here?

Visiting, peer-to-peer, face-to-face, human interaction.  Social media is superb for continuing relationships, following friends, and disseminating information.  But, it’s interaction that can truly aid in retention.  You always hear that at ______ university, you’re not just a number.  It’s time for institutions to fully embrace that.  We get so lost in the shuffle of life, living on our smart phones, that we sometimes forget to really connect.  And, while students want institutions to provide these social media resources, we can’t forget to simply interact.