Reports recently released by stakeholders in the academic sector have pointed out to a steady decline in the rate of retention of freshmen in the United States (Bushong). Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bushong writes that for the second year running, the percentage of students who returned for their second year running has dropped.
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The 2007-8 academic year saw a 34 percent reduction in first year students who returned to the same college for their second year of study. This figure was the lowest since 1989, a testament to the growing problem. The previous two academic years had seen a 32 and 31 percent reduction in the number of first year students returning for their second year study in the same college respectively.
The research, conducted by ACT, revealed that retention differs among various types of institutions of higher learning and remained higher in four-year colleges (71 percent) than at two-year colleges. Although the research findings did not give an explanation for the drastic drop in retention rates in four year colleges or why they have risen in two-year colleges, the report nevertheless provided a trend that is deeply worrying.
The reports further indicate that the retention rates will continue to decline in American universities and colleges, and could reach a critical level unless urgent measures are taken to curb the problem.
This drop in retention is becoming a serious problem for both students and institutions for when a student fails to stay in a college in the first year, not only they would have to start over the admissions process, they may also be forced to retake many classes thus incurring extra expenses.
In addition, a student who fails to stay in college or university for the first is at a higher risk of failing to complete the entire education and this significantly reduces their ability to have well-paying jobs in the future.
For the institutions, they would have to cover the tremendous financial loss of potentially four years of revenue for each students that drops out. The institution may also suffer from a loss to its reputation when dropout or expelled students share negative experience about the university online through their social networks.
Everybody has a huge megaphone these days – the social media, and stories that are popular on the media are normally taken up by mainstream news media and this could lead to a further deterioration of the university’s image among the public. Consequently, the institution may experience declining enrolment numbers.
Reports indicate that one out of four freshmen drop out of college (Whitbourne, pg. 1). These high dropout rates are attributed to students’ lack of adequate preparation to tackle the challenges of college. To explain these high dropout rates, the authors reports that “students devote so much time to the admissions process, they forget to focus on what lies ahead: challenging academics, living away from home, maintaining their finances, learning time management skills, and taking responsibility for their own lives” (Whitbourne, pg. 1).
I must agree with this opinion. For a student, Jumping to a college life is a huge leap from going to a high school while commuting from their parents’ homes. Students have to learn so many things at once and those who are ill prepared are bound to fail. Two major issues must be taken into consideration at this stage, the first is self-discipline, which can help students to manage aspects of their lives they did not have to think or do before.
Secondly, for many students, being away from their home first time without parents’ supervision could be very dangerous and scary. However, these challenges are not new. So why do many colleges and universities suffer from low retention rates and unsuccessful recruitment of new students now? I believe the single significant cause leading students to drop out of college or university is not due to the students’ unpreparedness for the college life, rather, it is largely due to the unpreparedness of institutions for unprepared students.
The low retention rates and unsuccessful recruitment are directly related each other. The financial crisis has been hitting this nation very hard and it seems that the economy has not reached the bottom yet. Unemployment rates has been all time high and the average household income has been decreasing.
In contrast, the cost of education has been hiking steadily as colleges and universities have not adjusted to the happenings outside of their walls: they have not realized that education is no longer affordable. This puts some pressures on admissions offices instantly. To balance the budget of institutions, they need to recruit a specific number of students. The absolute number of potential students are low. Therefore, there are fewer students who are ideal candidates for the institutions.
Many universities and colleges have been forced to accept “high risk” students – both financially and academically challenged individuals, to fulfill their intake targets and this has further increased the dropout rates (Greene & Greene). A report by the Admissions Angle explains, “…the pressure today on institutions to generate the highest possible yield from the accepted pool of candidates, is a short-term goal. That pressure can easily obscure the far more important long-term goal of a high rate of student retention” (Greene & Greene).
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I believe the key is how to absorb these students and successfully convert them to ideal students in the institutions. Assuming we need to accept more unprepared students, we must enhance our academic support to help students who are struggling with their academic/social challenges. Creation of institutions and filling them with academic and non-academic staff is not enough to meet students’ demands and challenges once they enroll at the colleges.
Learning Institutions need to pro-actively and aggressively seek those students who are at risk before they drop out. It must be noted that each student has a unique set of problems that require unique/personalized solution. These solutions could range from financial assistance or scholarships to aid needy students who have a good standing academically, counseling to help those who have social challenges, or academic assistance for students who have challenges in their academic activities. An article title Retention Matters says:
Consider the cost of a college degree from the frame of the strategic service concept: “The benefits perceived by the customer against total price in the context of alternatives.” While the product is excellent at most small liberal arts colleges, the competitors’ product is also outstanding.
Large privates, small and large publics, and community colleges are all good choices today. The problem for many privates is that their price is already out of reach for most Americans, and going in the wrong direction – while many publics charge much less (Matthews).
For many students, the financial costs are too much to bear and a high proportion of dropouts mention lack of money as their number one reason for dropping out of college or university. In most cases, students will only plan on how to pay for their first year or first semester of education and as this leads to their drop out in subsequent years of semester.
To ensure that they meet their financial obligations, some students participate in part-time jobs and this greatly impacts on their academic performance thereby increasing their chances of dropping out of college or university (Whitbourne, pg. 2).
Because of the nature of private schools, the cost of education here at Shenandoah University (SU) is relatively expensive. I know that many SU students have part-time jobs and this could make a significant difference on allocating their time on studying instead of working to make a payment for the education expense.
To solve the retention problem, all departments must work together and build a creative solution for each student to support their academic life. There are huge pressures on our education system in general, particularly due to the recent global recession which impacted heavily on our country’s academic system, coupled with fee increases in most colleges in the past one or two years.
Stakeholders must devise ways of increasing retention rates not only at the first year level, but also for the whole duration of the education, be it a two or four-year program. Without more collaborative efforts among all departments, schools cannot convince students to stay on our campus. These collaborative efforts must involve colleges and universities, the government (both federal and state), education authorities, and parents.
Such an effort will help identify social, educational, and financial challenges faced by students that may hinder their academic pursuits and find solutions before it is too late. Because each student has a unique set of problems that may cause them to drop out of college, each college or university must attend to each student independently, rather than devise a set of policies to be applied on the general student population.
Bushong, Steven. “Freshman Retention Continues to Decline, Report Says”. The Chronicle of Higher Education. January 2009. Web.
Greene, Howard and Greene, Matthew. “In yield, ‘match’ is everything: they may enroll, but will they stay and thrive?” The Admissions Angle. May 2003. Web.
Matthews, Brian. “Retention Matters”. Inside Higher Ed. Nov. 2009. Web.
Whitbourne, Jonathan. “The dropout dilemma: The dropout dilemma: One in four college freshmen drop out. What is going on here? What does it take to stay in?” March 2002. Web.