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spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer spacer October 16, 2008
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Viewpoints - The key to student retention

by Hamad Ghazle

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Clearly the retention of students beyond the first year of college through graduation has become a nationwide problem for many colleges and universities.

Indeed, this is not a new problem, but it is currently at the forefront of concern.

Students entering higher-education institutions are faced with demanding transitions. Each individual reacts to these transitions in a unique manner based on his or her life experiences, family and educational backgrounds, personality, psychosocial status, aspirations, career goals, kinds of peers, interactions with faculty and staff, and organizational skills, to name a few. Undoubtedly, higher-education institutions find it difficult to fully prepare for these unique reactions. Consequently, institutions should not only develop and implement interventional strategies that meet and respond to only the students’ needs, but also to facilitate their college transition and enhance faculty-student interaction to lead to student involvement, integration and a sense of belonging.

Students who have positive experiences and are satisfied with those experiences are more likely to stay in college. Addressing retention issues means much more than simply shelved and forgotten intermittent reports. It does not mean just providing quality programs with knowledgeable instructors, needed equipment and efficient facilities. It means cultivating an institutional environment and commitment which values, promotes and develops the richest and most integrative learning communities.

The internal and external financial challenges, the strong trend toward accountability, access, affordability, efficiency, outcomes, quality, accreditation agencies and national ranking systems should not be the only driving forces behind the emphasis on retention and, consequently, the mobilization of institutional communities and constituents. It should be a moral and ethical obligation and responsibility towards the student, the community and the nation.

Colleges and universities need to explore innovative approaches to ensure academic preparedness. If they do not focus on this issue, the country may have difficulty surviving in the competitive worldwide economy and worldwide technological markets. Since higher education institutions must prepare to meet the future needs of its diverse population, redesigning and restructuring existing programs and/or processes to retain and graduate students are needed.

Colleges and universities should focus their efforts on increasing the diversity of their student bodies. Increasing the demographic diversity of the student body would allow students to feel that they “fit” within the institution. A student may feel that he or she fits within the institution if he or she shares values with other students. In other words, colleges and universities should focus their efforts to create environments where students feel that they belong at their institutions. In return, this will boost and enhance retention and graduation efforts and rates.

It is important that colleges and universities recognize the potential for influencing, retaining and graduating students. Colleges and universities must be prepared to declare student retention as institutional priorities. Commitment and continued vigilance from every constituent at higher-education institutions are essential.

Ghazle is director of RIT’s diagnostic medical sonography program.

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