How do you keep students coming back? It’s a challenge that all universities deal with.
Each year, a certain number of undergrads will not return to continue their studies. Some transfer to other institutions, others are dealing with personal or family issues, some just drop out of university altogether.
Across Ontario, about 73 per cent of students will still be around to graduate within six years of starting university. At Brock the rate is 70 per cent.
Consistent enrolment and high graduation rates are important to the stability and programming of a complex organization that must navigate by longer-term academic and strategic planning.
To reinforce that stability, Brock is turning up efforts to dissuade people from checking out before they complete their degree. Such results are not achieved by executive order, they require a buy-in that reaches all across campus — a culture adjustment. To that end, the University is encouraging faculty or staff to submit proposals for initiatives to improve student retention.
Brock is also picking up the tab for approved proposals that involve one-time or startup costs. The Office of the Provost has budgeted $100,000 to fund such initiatives, and until June 30, faculty or staff can apply for a ‘Retention Grant’ to cover costs that would be incurred by innovative retention initiatives.
“The ultimate goal is that every student we accept, graduates,” said Tom Dunk, Provost and Vice-President Academic. “There are numerous factors that affect retention, obviously academic grades are a key. But decisions to stay or leave are not always linked to ability. Often it’s about feeling connected to the University.”
Project leader Jamie Mandigo, Vice-Provost of Enrolment Management and International, said it is critical that individual faculty and staff try to be aware of, and reach out to, students at risk of leaving.
“We need the Brock community to be involved,” said Mandigo. “We need their ideas about promoting retention.”
Mandigo says there are known practices or structures that help people bond with their environment. He points to varsity athletes who, as a group, have one of the highest retention rates at Brock — 90 per cent are still here on graduation day.
“Athletes don’t arrive with higher admit averages than anyone else,” said Mandigo, “but as team members they’re generally more socially connected with peers. They also have a ‘buddy system’ that provides an early alert if a student is having problems with grades.
“They feel more engaged with the University, and it all adds up to a big difference.”
Applying such approaches campus-wide on a sustainable basis is part of the challenge, he said. Human and financial resources are not infinite, but he acknowledged that changing Brock’s culture in this regard has more to do with passion and commitment than with requisition orders.
“We all have to look at this through the lens of a student, not just as traditional standards and approaches.
“This is being driven by our academic mission, about who we want to be. Every student who starts here should be supported to eventually walk across that convocation stage. Until we can say that, we have some work to do.”