Everyone likes to feel that someone would miss them if they were gone. That’s one of the principles Kansas University officials are looking at as they seek to boost student retention.
According to Kathleen McCluskey-Fawcett, director of the KU honors program, it’s all about being connected. “It’s kind of ephemeral,” she said, “but a student knows whether they’re connected or not.”
The connections she’s talking about can be through an adviser, a teacher or even a residence hall assistant. It’s someone who helps keep you on track or helps you over a rough spot, in short, someone who notices that you’re here and would miss you if you weren’t.
It’s a pretty simple principle but one that isn’t easily applied in a large university like KU. Even with the best efforts of faculty and staff and the help of university living groups, it’s pretty easy for a student who’s struggling to get lost in the shuffle.
A task force soon will be appointed at KU to look at the retention issue. Their effort comes in response to a Kansas Board of Regents challenge to all state universities to raise their retention rates 10 percent above the national average within the next 10 years.
KU has a way to go. For instance, KU currently retains 77.5 percent of its freshman class, but the national average is 80 percent. It will take a lot of connecting to raise the freshman retention rate to 88 percent.
KU officials have accurately pointed out that the state’s current qualified admissions standards for Kansas high school graduates work against the retention rate. Because the standards are minimal, they allow the admission of many students who may not be prepared for university work. In fact, university officials may see the regents’ desire to raise retention rates as an opportunity to suggest more demanding admissions requirements for the university.
A lack of academic preparation obviously is a big factor in a student being able to progress toward a degree, but university officials are smart to look at other factors. Having university “connections” isn’t just a warm and fuzzy idea. Students who have those connections have somewhere they know they can go when they need some feedback or some advice. Being willing and able to ask for help is a key element in student success.
The regents have set a challenging but worthwhile goal for KU and other state universities. How will Kansas universities meet that goal? The theory of connections suggests it will be one student at a time.