Sierra Nevada College officials are working hard to recruit new students, but also to motivate current students to stay.
The first-time freshman retention rate has nearly doubled in the past few years, according to Council of Independent Colleges data.
“This year our rate is 79 percent, a dramatic up turn and we’re really excited about it,” said Mallory Kolinski, special assistant to the provost and director of Assessment Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Compliance.
SNC’s freshman retention rate was low fall 2005 to fall 2006, but increased the following year and surpassed the national average from fall 2011 to fall 2012. The national average is 75 percent.
Also, doing well is the overall retention rates, which include freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors who return to SNC and doesn’t include students who leave SNC because they graduated, according to Kolinski.
“We had a 77 percent retention rate,” said Kolinski, of the overall rate for fall 2011 to fall 2012.
The dramatic improvement in retention rates is not by accident.
“One of the big changes we’ve made that really helps students is the increase in academic support services,” said Vice President and Provost Shannon Beets.
The Strategies for College Success course is available for students who struggle with balancing their academic life and their social life.
“The Strategies class is really designed to be a structured and supportive class that helps students manage time, organize time, helps them have accountability through the peer mentor that’s in the class,” said Director of Academic Support Services Henry Conover. “It’s designed to provide structured, focused time for them to work on their homework for their classes in a very structured setting with accountability.”
Additionally, SNC has implemented many other things in order to retain students.
“One thing that we’re doing to keep freshman here is we made the classes more rigorous and more interactive,” said Beets. “More opportunities for active learning in the freshman year and that helps keep them engaged, which helps keep them here.”
A program already in place that helps create student interactions is Wilderness Orientation. Wilderness Orientation is a backpacking trip which takes new, incoming students to Desolation Wilderness for a few days.
“Wilderness Orientation also helps. It creates that early bonding. It’s unique among orientation programs in that it’s student-led,” said Beets. “So not only is it this intense wilderness experience, it’s a completely student-led experience, which says really good things about our students here.”
Plans to have another option for orientation are in the works for new students, including freshman and transfers, who are uninterested in outdoor programs.
“We are adding some things next year to support freshman. One is a sort of cultural version of the wilderness orientation. We’re going to try to put together a few days of programs,” said Beets. “Shakespeare at the lake, the summer fest, taking them down to Reno to see an independent film, maybe doing a poetry event on campus, to sort of immerse them in the cultural if they’re not the outdoor type.”
Student bonding is also a focus to keep students at SNC.
“Another thing we’re hoping to add is freshman learning communities. Freshman learning communities are courses that are paired together: two courses that have the same cohort of students in them,” said Beets.
This is one way to help new students adjust to new surroundings, especially if they are far away from home, according to Beets.
According to Kolinski, if a student feels like he or she can’t overcome the adjustments and wants to withdraw, SNC has a process to see if there is anything SNC can do to prevent them from leaving.
The withdraw form allows for SNC to assess why students are leaving and see the most common reasons for withdrawal.
“Two most common things are finances; they worry about finances, and they miss home. We have students coming here from all 50 states, 12-19 different countries; there are some adjustment issues,” said Beets.
Every new student who is befriended by continuing students’ means those students are helping with retention, according to Beets.
“I can’t emphasize enough what an important role continuing students play in retention. Because when continuing students reach out to new freshman and make them feel welcome and help them — even if it’s just pointing out where their class is or answering questions for them — that makes them feel comfortable and they can feel welcome and they’re more likely to stay here,” said Beets.
Find full story in the September 27 issue.
*Originally published in Eagle’s Eye.