Wendler Knox roles of retention persistence in student life

(Editor’s Note: third in a series of reflections on student life at West Texas A&M University.)

Of all the issues challenging students in pursuit of undergraduate degrees in universities across the nation, the most important is retention. Retention measures the number of people who, after the first year, return to the university where they began studies for a second year. According to US News, the highest retention rates in America for national universities are 99% and occur at MIT and the University of Chicago. Regional universities typically have lower retention rates. At West Texas A&M University, according to the same US News study, retention is 67%. At too many public and private universities in our nation, retention rates are less than one in three.

According to a FOX Business study, money is the top reason students drop out of college. 42% of the students in our nation who leave college do so for financial reasons, 32% for family commitments, followed by the college of choice not being a good personal fit, lack of time, health reasons and job loss. No matter the causes, too many students start and don’t finish. When students borrow money to obtain a degree, at least they leave with the product their incurred debt was intended to procure. The real tragedy is when students borrow money and obtain no degree. Responsible universities will find ways to encourage completion.

Mike Knox

The first action we take at WT is honesty and transparency about the cost of study, the opportunities for employment after graduation and the value of “connecting” on campus. For many students, especially new freshmen, college can be filled with expectations when walking through the campus gate for the first time. Some of those expectations are not met. Students experience “buyer’s remorse.” Millennials find that their preparation for college study is not sufficient. According to a Walton Family Foundation funded report, only 39% of the millennial population, born between 1981 and 1996, believed their high school preparation was sufficient. Too many universities put too much blame on primary and secondary educators for the challenges that college students face in the classroom. We believe meeting students and working diligently to help them get where they want to be is essential. This reality is exacerbated by over half of our nation’s citizens, 52%, believing that higher education is not headed in the right direction. Leadership honesty and the reinforcement of clear expectations are critical in student life.

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