By Shawn Gakhal
The retention rates for incoming freshmen and transfers at Roosevelt University have increased since fall 2013 according to Joseph P. Regan, associate provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Accreditation.
In the fall of 2012, only 428 out of 535 students came back for spring, resulting in an 80 percent retention rate for freshmen. This year, the retention rate has jumped to 85.1 percent.
For transfer students, the numbers are higher, as well. Their retention rate in fall 2012 had only 473 out of 556 students coming back, which resulted in an 85.1 percent retention rate. Their retention rate has risen to 89 percent in spring 2014.
Douglas Knerr, executive vice president and university provost, spoke with the Torch about the specific meaning of retention rates and the external influences that have persuaded prospective students to stay at Roosevelt.
“It’s very heartening to see progress in those numbers,” Knerr said. “We have been challenged with that freshman retention number. … It’s the environment of the community that, ultimately, retains students and gives them confidence, success and graduation — which is what we’re all about. Retention from one semester to the other is a leading indication of what we want to accomplish, and that’s graduation.”
While freshmen are the lifeblood of any postsecondary institution, Roosevelt has fared extremely well with new, incoming transfer students, which have traditionally been retained at higher rates than their aforementioned counterparts.
“Seeing [retention] in both freshmen and the transfer [students] is really good validation that the overall strategies [are] working and not just targeted to freshmen,” Knerr said. “Even though freshmen are incredibly important to the institution, transfers are also very important. Transfers do retain, generally, at a higher rate overall, but what we’re measuring here is the movement from one semester to the other.”
While there can be a myriad of reasons why a student stays at a particular school, Knerr opened up to the specific ways that the university has increased retention, which include the acts of paying attention and being proactive.
“One [strategy] is the attention on [retention,] and I think you have to declare institutionally that it’s an important thing that we’re going to work on,” Knerr said. “I think that there’s more recognition that it’s everyone’s responsibility, including helping your peers and having faculty responsible for … intellectual and emotional growth. That’s one reason. Better advising is another one — setting clear expectations.”
A new advisement process was also among the new strategies that the university has initiated to better retain students.
“We did ‘Starting out at Roosevelt,’ which is a new advisement process,” Knerr said. “Students had a richer experience at the entry point. … You want to make sure that you have this really strong support network during acclamation to the university and into the classroom. … That’s our ongoing focus to link enrollment to acclamation to academic experience.”
Along with a new advisement process to help students connect more with their collegiate environment, the university is currently in the midst of a marketing campaign to enlist proposed students.
“We’re in market currently with our broad campaign,” said Patrick Lytle, the university’s chief marketing officer. “We’re in our second phase of rollout, which started earlier this year in January. … You see [Roosevelt University] ads in train stations, on the train, on buses, in bus shelters, billboards, movie theatres and many different places. We do a lot of radio advertising, specifically to target enrollment events.”
Lytle also talked new and alternative marketing strategies that the university is using to enroll more students and set itself apart from its provincial competition.
“We also do a lot of search engine marketing,” Lytle said. “That’s advertising to more directed specific events of programs, targeting specific audiences into specific things — like if you’re Googling. We [also] do a broad student search campaign, which, in essence, targets prospective freshmen transfer students. … We do a lot of ongoing communications to community college and high school counselors and other influencers to soften that market. Those people guide students to learn more about Roosevelt. It’s all really in support of the strategic enrollment plan at the direction and under the partnership of the Enrollment Management and Student Services office.”
In a metropolitan city like Chicago, the competition between Roosevelt and neighboring universities in recruiting modern students is always a battle.
“It’s a highly competitive market,” Lytle said. “Right here in the South Loop, there are 70,000 plus college students. Regionally and nationally, it’s a tremendously competitive space. Some of these institutions are direct competitors. Columbia [College] is not as much a direct competitor in that their students are a little bit more niche in the arts community. DePaul [University], Loyola [University] certainly [and] Robert Morris [University], there are a lot of these institutions right here that we compete with.”
Since competition amongst nearby Chicago universities vying for incoming freshman students is tenacious, the one major difference between them and Roosevelt is the university’s social justice mission.
“It’s really important that we’re able to get our story out there and share it authentically,” Lytle said. “Our mission [of] social justice, academic excellence [and] our location is obviously a really wonderful thing. The Schaumburg Campus and the wonderful programs that they offer — all those things are really important to [help] students understand the difference between a Roosevelt and a DePaul.”