By: RANDALL MOSSMAN
For universities, the ability to retain new students from their first year or semester to a second is vital to their success and effectiveness. Chancellor Terry Allison has been outspoken about the expanded efforts towards retention that he has initiated.
In the cover letter sent to Central Connecticut State University, Allison lauded the amount of effort he has put into increasing retention here at IU South Bend. In the letter, Allison mentioned: the creation of the Titan Success Center, introducing a first-year seminar, and support for Ivy Tech students wishing to transfer, among other things aimed at improving the first year experience.
However, retention rates at IUSB for many years have been stagnant. The university is retaining around 60-65 percent of new students to their second year, which is comparable with the other IU satellite campuses.
Should the administration be concerned over the stagnant numbers even with these new programs, or is it too early to tell? Kofi Barko, Assistant Director of the Titan Success Center, said that the programs have not been in place long enough to tell yet. He said retention numbers are some of the hardest to boost, due to the amount of different aspects that can go into a student deciding not to return.
“[Retention] involves so many different aspects,” Barko said. “Retention is one of the most difficult elements to improve. There are a lot of different reasons why students don’t stay.”
Barko pointed out that retention is more than just academic; it also involves social and financial aspects, among many other things. He equated retention efforts to a puzzle. “You can’t just fix one piece of the puzzle,” Barko said.
He also said that when programs aimed at improving retention are introduced, the impact on the overall numbers is not immediate. He said that different resources have to be put in play and implemented over time.
“It’s very hard work, but it takes a lot of time,” Barko said. He said that after the programs are put in place, then “you get the culture of building retention.”
Barko thinks that the necessary programs are in place to see improved retention rates, and that now all it takes is time. “Currently, I feel like we have the pieces in place to make the changes we want to make,” he said.
“I feel like there is overwhelmingly great support to determine how we can retain students,” Barko said. “I feel like there is a strong commitment towards helping students be successful.”
However, Barko thinks that there is still some more room for improvement. “As in everything, there’s always ways to improve,” he said.
Barko wants to see students more comfortable with reaching out for help. “Building a culture where students are okay with asking for help, whatever their situation is,” he said.
Once the current programs are fully implemented at an optimal level, then potential changes can be thought about, Barko said.
Barko is employed by an organization, the Titan Success Center, which was put in place by the administration and Chancellor Allison to help improve retention. The center focuses on helping students with any issues or concerns they might have, and helps students find the resources they need and assists them in making a plan. It is funded through a $25 fee that freshman, sophomore and junior students pay each semester.
While the struggle to increase retention rates for the university is always ongoing, one must not forget what is behind the statistics: the college education of individual students.
Barko encourages students to seek help if they have any problems or concerns on campus, as there are resources out there to assist them.
“Reach out to someone,” he said. “Have a conversation first about your options before you make your decision.”