Notes on Student Retention

I want my classroom to help students stay engaged and in college. I want my students, who come to the college at great personal effort, to succeed. Am I, perhaps, part of the problem rather than the solution? What needs to be happening to keep the students in school?

Self-determination theory asserts that community college students
who experience a robust sense of belonging, competency, and autonomy
will naturally be more engaged. (26)

Pam Schuetz. “A Theory-Driven Model of Community College Student Engagement.” Community College Journal of Research and Practice. Apr-Jun2008, Vol. 32 Issue 4-6, p305-324.

Belonging… How do you get students to feel like they belong in a class? At least to some extent, you get them talking. Here is a reason that I can understand and get behind for group work.

I think, to some extent, that my classroom blog helps with this. They are authors on the blog. They are clearly participating in and contributing to the discussions on the blog.

And the fact that they are their blog posts should help with competence as well. Autonomy I am not so sure of.

What does research into student retention tell us?

First, it tells us that students are more likely to persist and graduate in settings that take advising seriously; that provide clear, consistent, and easily accessible information about institutional requirements, that help students understand the roadmap to completion, and help them understand how they use that roadmap to decide upon and achieve personal goals. Second, students are more likely to persist and graduate in settings that provide support – academic, social, and personal – in ways which is both available and connected to other parts of their collegiate experience. Third, students are more likely to persist and graduate in settings that involve them as valued members of the institution. Frequency and quality of contact with faculty, staff, and students has repeatedly been shown to be an independent predictor of student persistence.

I can’t help explain a lot about the school, but I can send them to teachers who know the ropes for their majors. Perhaps that should be a required interview. Make the students go and find out what the school requires for their majors.

I think that the blog helps with support. The students’ comments are usually positive and they engage people to whom they have something to say.

Frequency and quality of contact support… I guess that means I need to have office hours and have the students come in. I can do that at both schools. That would help a lot, I think.

from Vincent Tinto. “Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College.” Syracuse University. 2000.

Here is where I think I might be falling down on the job, at least at CC1. SLAC requires a very high standard of grammar and the students are expected to do well on their papers. I don’t see that overall their writing is significantly better than CC1s, but the expectations of the school for them are higher.

I don’t think that I have been having high expectations. I have been having fairly low expectations. I have been lowering my expectations trying to find a course that will get the students involved and get them writing well. But perhaps I need to increase the writing and decrease the baby steps I’ve added to help them get from one point to the next.

High expectations is a condition that promotes student retention. To borrow a commonly used phrase, no student rises to low expectations. Expectations are expressed in a variety of ways. In classrooms they are expressed in the level of intellectual work expected of students and in the degree to which students see learning in classroom as challenging. Regrettably, it is too often true that universities expect too little of students.

The more students learn, the more value they find in their learning, the more likely they are to stay and graduate. This is particularly true for moreable and motivated students who seek out learning and are, in turn, more likely to respond to perceived shortcomings in the quality of learning they experience on campus. Least we forget the purpose of higher education is not merely that students are retained, but that they are educated. In the final analysis, student learning drives student retention.Not surprisingly, an important condition for student learning is involvement. Even among studentswho persist, students who are more involved in learning, especially with others, learn more and show greater levels of intellectual development. It is for this reason that so much of the literature on institutional retention policy speaks of the importance of building educational communities that involve all, not just (4) some, students. This is especially the case during the first year of university study when student membership is so tenuous yet so critical to subsequent retention.To sum up, students are more likely to persist when they find themselves in settings that hold high expectations for their learning, provide needed academic and social support, and actively involve themwith other students and faculty in learning. The key concept is that of educational community and thecapacity of institutions to establish educational communities that involve all students as equal members.

But getting students involved is no simple matter especially when students commute to campus, work while in college, or have substantial family responsibilities. Unlike students who reside on or verynear campus who have few additional responsibilities, those students have little time to spend with theirpeers and faculty on campus. For them, the classroom may be the only place where they meet each otherand the faculty, the only place where engagement in academic matters is possible. Unfortunately, mostuniversity classrooms are not involving. Most students experience classrooms, especially the large lecturehalls that dominate the first year of our universities, as isolated learners whose learning is detached fromthat of other students in the class and from the content of other classes in which they are enrolled. For toomany classrooms, the experience of learning is still one of isolation and passivity. (5)

Vincent Tinto – 11th Annual Conference of the European Access Network, 2002

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