Roosevelt’s retention plan targets improved student life in and out of the classroom
By Tom Cicero
Roosevelt University’s retention rate hovers around 50 percent, according to Executive Vice President Doug Knerr.
Retention rates can be potentially misleading, however, as they usually only count for first and second-year students returning to the university. If the focus is taken off of the freshman class and placed on the university as a whole, a different perspective is given.
“The most public metric of retention refers only to full-time, first-time freshmen, which, for a school like ours, represents only a piece of the overall total,” Knerr said. “Persistence to graduation is actually a better way to look at the overall process, of which retention is a leading indicator.”
One of the contributors of high retention rates, according to the faculty, is that freshmen aren’t necessarily in college by choice, but rather pushed by their parents to attend college. Compared to upper-level students, or adult students, who have higher retention rates across the board, there seems to be a difference in motivation.
Another common measure of retention is comparing two similar universities, like Roosevelt and DePaul University. This information can lead to differing opinions about the schools that may not be fair.
It is difficult to put universities side by side and simply say one is doing better than the other, Knerr said. The reason for this is that different universities are aiming for different things. Roosevelt is one of the most diversely populated universities in the city and caters to students of diverse ethnicities and cultures. Instead of pinpointing a certain demographic, or specializing in a certain field, the university aims at a large demographic.
According to Knerr, this has had some negative effects for the university, in that a tendency to become compartmentalized develops. Knerr said he felt the best way to cure this, and in turn help students feel more connected to the university, was to try to integrate students across the board.
Knerr and fellow faculty members are working on what they call the “stop-out” strategy, which aims to get students who recently left the university to return.
The goal of this strategy is to reach out to the students who leave and find out why they left. Since it is a relatively new project, a particular reason of why students are leaving has not yet been determined.
However, there are some commonly recurring themes among reasons students give for leaving.
The first reason is finances. Whether it was students over-estimating their finances, or a sudden change in their financial situations, money has a large effect on the retention rate.
Knerr cited the financial crisis of 2008 as an example of this economic shift.
The second reason is that some students were not academically prepared for college. One way that the university is trying to change its strategy with this situation is by making sure that it is a good fit for students through what they call the Starting Out at Roosevelt program.
The program aims to integrate students into the university through a two-and-a-half hour session in which they learn about financial aid, student accounts, advising and course registration.
Sheila Coffin, associate provost of Academic Services, who also heads the SOAR program, said she thought it was important that students knew what they were getting into before attending the university.
SOAR aims to fully inform students about all aspects of university life. 2013 was the first year SOAR was implemented at the university, and Coffin said she felt that it was a success.
“The majority of our new 2013 freshmen and their families met with an academic advisor, a financial aid counselor and a representative from Student Accounts,” Coffin said. “In addition, parents met with a director in the Student Affairs Department to discuss health insurance and first-year life for new students. The idea behind SOAR was to be proactive. Based on their SOAR experience, students were able to make an informed decision as to whether or not Roosevelt was a ‘good fit’ academically and financially.”
Knerr and Coffin are also working with university faculty and staff to make sure they are helping students. One of the ways they are doing this is through what Coffin calls the Early Alert system.
“Faculty members ask for additional support services to be extended to students who they feel may be struggling in their course or in the classroom,” Coffin explained. “There is a collaborative team from Student Affairs and Student Services who then initiate outreach to the student.”
In addition to Early Alert, Coffin also administers something called Consistent, Accessible, Respectful and Efficient service.
“In the spring, the non-academic services offices began a series of training to provide [C.A.R.E.] service to students,” Coffin said. “The goal is to continually improve each student’s level of satisfaction related to non-academic services. Satisfied students remain at Roosevelt.”
Knerr said that universities should not shy away from perfection in any way and that it may be hard to achieve, but it should be the goal.
“Even the best universities do not have perfect retention,” he said. “Retention requires a relentless focus on student learning through connecting all parts of the student experience, inside of the classroom and out, on student success. We strive each and every day for perfection—100 percent retention in all categories—and we will never rest until that is achieved.”