Retention is not a new topic, but it is an important topic for colleges. Your student’s college wants him to stay enrolled. It is good for your student, and obviously, it is good for the college. Many students transfer to a different college – often after a semester, a year, or two years. Roughly 55% of students who start college finish school in six years at the same school. There are hundreds of reasons why a student may transfer, some of which are better than others.
If your student talks about transferring, it is important that you help her think about her reasons. Talk to her about whether things will be different in a different place, or whether she might make some changes in her approach in her current school. Many students consider a transfer at some point during their first or second year, but many choose to remain where they are. As you and your student think about the transfer question, keep in mind that most colleges are working hard to help your student succeed and find satisfaction. Your student chose this college initially, and the college selected your student. The college wants this to work. Your student might think about whether she is taking advantage of all of the opportunities provided.
Here are a few of the kinds of practices many colleges have put in place as retention efforts: practices to help your student succeed. If you and your student are discussing potential dissatisfaction with his current college experience, ask him whether he is aware of, and has taken advantage of, any of these efforts at his current school. He may find ways to significantly alter his experience at his current institution without having to transfer to another school.
Summer Orientation: Most colleges offer some kind of summer orientation to help students adjust to college life. If your student has already completed a semester or a year, obviously this opportunity it past. However, your student might think again about some of the things he was told during orientation. Reviewing this advice might prove helpful now. Or your student might decide to become an Orientation Leader to help new students about to enter the school during the coming year. This will help him review, and will also help him to become more engaged with the school.
Summer Bridge Program: Again, once your student is at school, this opportunity may be in the past, but many schools offer some sort of academic program during the summer prior to freshman year to help students solidify their academic skills. Did your student take advantage of such a program? If not, might she want to do something over the next summer to sharpen academic skills?
First Year Seminar (University 101): Many schools offer a special class for first year students to help them make the adjustment to college life. The class may be required, or it may be optional. If your student did not take this class in the fall, it may be offered again in the spring for those who missed it. This may be a good opportunity not only to learn about transition, but also to connect in a more personal way with other first-year students.
Required Campus Housing for First-Year Students: Some schools require that all first-year students live on campus. Although it is possible that your student may feel that this is restrictive, it is likely intended as a way to help students to meet one another, to build community, and to learn the culture of the institution.
Learning Communities: Many schools offer linked courses or clusters of courses that students enroll in together. The same students will be enrolled in multiple classes together and the classes may overlap in content. Some Learning Communities are also Learning and Living Communities, with the students living in the same residence hall or on the same floor. Being part of a Learning Community can help your student find connections between his classes and also make connections with other students with similar interests.
Honors Programs: If your student is a relatively strong student and is interested in challenging himself a bit more, he might investigate whether the college has an honors program – either institution-wide or within a particular department. Enrolling in an Honors Program will not only help your student find more academic challenges, but will help him to connect with other like-minded students and possibly with faculty members with similar interests.
Faculty or Peer Mentoring: Many colleges have a formal, or informal, program of connecting students with a faculty member (perhaps an advisor) or an upperclass student who can help him navigate the college experience. Students who take advantage of such a program may find the adjustment to college easier.
Programming for Special Groups: If your student is the member of a subpopulation at the college, there may be special programming available. Many institutions have programs in place for first generation students (students who are the first in their family to attend college), minority populations, ethnic groups, religious or special interest groups. Many colleges are keenly aware of, and value, the diversity in their student population and want to help all students succeed.
Tutoring and Support Centers: Colleges may offer help with writing, speaking, math, and reading skills by creating special centers where help is available. Most schools offer specific tutoring for difficult subjects. Academic success is important, and often requires extra effort. Most schools are anxious to provide the help that students need.
Academic Advising: Most colleges assign new students to an Academic Advisor. This may be a faculty or staff member. The role of the Academic Advisor is to help students plan their schedule of classes, but also to help the student make adjustments and to find needed services and/or support. Most staff and faculty members who serve as Academic Advisors are genuinely interested in helping students find their way and succeed.
Midterm Progress Reports: Many institutions provide students with a progress report of some kind at midterm time. This may be a “courtesy grade” of Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory or Failing in all classes, or it may be notification only in classes in jeopardy. Midterm time still allows a student time to change direction if improvement is necessary.
Early Warning System: Like midterm progress reports, an early warning system is intended to let a student know when academic difficulty seems to be occurring. Students may receive an e-mail or other notification, either from an instructor or an administrator, letting them know that there is a problem. Early Warning Systems may notify students of low grades, attendance issues, or other potential problems. Students have an opportunity to address problems early.
Career Guidance: Most colleges have a Career Office in some form. Many students think of this office as the place to go when they are ready to look for that post-college job. However, most Career Offices also provide help and programming as students consider career options and choices of major. This can help students who are currently undecided about a major or who are discovering that their current major may not be the correct choice for them.
Not every college will employ all of the strategies mentioned above. Not every student will need every strategy. It is important that parents, and their students, recognize that colleges are working hard to try to retain students. Colleges recognize that it is difficult for students to transfer. Colleges will continue to study the issue of student retention and will continue to make new efforts. Retention is a partnership, however. Colleges can provide services and programs, but students must take advantage of them. As a college parent, you might help your student evaluate how fully she is using all of the services and efforts provided by her institution.