February 19, 2017
In today’s global economy, higher education plays a critical role in preparing the engineers, nurses and health care professionals, educators and business leaders of tomorrow. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in fall 2016, approximately 20.5 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities, marking an increase of 5.2 million since fall 2000. At Valparaiso University, total enrollment continues to climb, with more than 1,100 first-year students in fall 2016.
However, it is not enough to merely enroll new students each year. In order for these young women and men to achieve their goals, they must persist to graduation, and university faculty and staff must increase efforts to retain these students. The National Center for Education Statistics states, “60 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in fall 2008 completed the degree at that institution by 2014,” with a slightly higher rate of 65 percent at private, nonprofit institutions.
Student retention is a key priority at Valparaiso University, and in fall 2015 Provost Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D., appointed Peter Kanelos, Ph.D., dean of Christ College — The Honors College, to chair a University Task Force on retention. This task force was charged to identify the University’s strengths and challenges related to retaining students of all backgrounds, and especially those from higher risk backgrounds, i.e. first generation, low income and historically underrepresented. Task force members developed both short- and long-term goals for the University and made several critical recommendations for the immediate improvement of student retention at Valparaiso University.
To help implement these short- and long-term goals, the task force recommended creating a new position of executive director for retention and student success to act as a primary advocate and to develop, coordinate, facilitate and evaluate the retention efforts at Valparaiso University. Further, several institutional-level committees will assist in facilitating the necessary communication and coordination needed to support student retention. For example, the Committee on Motivation, Persistence and Student Success is charged with oversight, communication and immediate intervention of at-risk students and/or those who are in crisis. Additionally, the Council of Directors of Academic Support Centers manages the academic support structures needed to support students academically, and the Committee on First Year Experience implements programming for first-year student to help them better adjust and transition into college.
There are many resources available on Valparaiso University's campus and on the campuses of colleges and universities across the country, to ensure students who have the ability and desire to succeed are able to do so. Peer tutors and mentorship programs offer valuable types of support to enhance students’ academic development and help them develop new study skills. Career Centers can advise students in assessing personal skills and interests and learn how to research career fields, obtain internships, network, and identify job opportunities.
Now, more than ever, a college degree is well worth the return on investment. On campus, students have access to numerous resources committed to their success inside and outside the classroom. Ultimately, it is up to the student to take advantage, to persist through graduation and to prepare for life after college.
Stacey Miller, Ed.D, is assistant provost for inclusion at Valparaiso University.
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