Kansas University leaders are looking for ways to help retain students like Jon Kletsky.
Kletsky recently left KU after getting that dreaded letter from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences indicating his grades weren’t up to par.
He’s still focused on going to school and is enrolled in Johnson County Community College to try to get back to KU.
“I didn’t use the resources to my advantage, I feel,” said Kletsky, who still lives in Lawrence. “They keep track of your GPA online, and I thought, ‘Why did I not notice this before?’”
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said the solution to higher retention rates is a complex one and will go well beyond situations like Kletsky’s.
The university plans to address the issue using a new task force that will study the issue and report back by early in the spring semester.
Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, director of KU’s honors program, has served on committees that have addressed the issue in past years, and she said research points to one critical factor in determining whether a student will stay in school.
“The student needs to feel connected somehow to the university,” she said.
That can mean different things for different students. For some, it can be an adviser, and for others, it can be a resident assistant in the residence halls.
“It’s kind of ephemeral, but a student knows whether they’re connected or not,” McCluskey-Fawcett said.
She said that having many different avenues for connections, like clubs and organizations, can be important in retaining students.
KU does not have a staff member dedicated to retention efforts — something the task force may examine — and new policies could take the form of changes in different areas of KU that help retain students, including in admissions, advising and enrollment.
Retention rates have been in focus recently, as the Kansas Board of Regents have proposed setting a goal of improving retention rates 10 percent above the national averages of peer institutions in 10 years.
KU’s retention rate for freshmen is 77.5 percent, and the national average is 80 percent.
The focus really needs to go beyond those numbers, Gray-Little said, to focusing on retaining students at all levels until they graduate.
Gray-Little said she’s noticed that several students at KU seem to be interested in pursuing more than one major. She said one potential effort could focus on finding other ways to become very knowledgeable about a topic without spending as much time and effort as on a second major.
“I certainly understand and am really sympathetic toward learning and being knowledgeable,” Gray-Little said. “I don’t think that there are many instances in which having a dual major is going to make all the difference” for someone’s career aspirations.
Alternatives may include students taking large blocks of courses in other departments to encourage them to develop a specialty, Gray-Little said.
She said she appreciated the focus on the regents’ goals, and thought it was wise to include a 10-year timeframe for improvement.
Retention and graduation rates, coupled with improving research capabilities, have formed the crux of Gray-Little’s efforts so far as chancellor. Another committee will be formed to address ways to improve research, she said.
“These two things, to me, address what it means to be a research university,” she said.