Back For More-Retention rates exceed expectations for year

Back For More-Retention rates exceed expectations for year

by Hannah PickettStaff Writer

While the economic downturn has affected many businesses and colleges throughout the state, Simpson College may have bucked the trend.

Take a look around campus and you’ll realize the number of students appears the same as this time last year. That’s because the enrollment numbers have held steady from last fall to this fall.

For Fall 2008, there were 1,474 full-time students enrolled, compared to this fall’s 1,472 full-time students, according to John Bolen, registrar and associate dean.

Student retention-the number of students who return after at least one year of college-is always a concern, but this year has differed from years past.

“Every year has its own uniqueness,” said Bolen, who’s worked for Simpson for nearly 20 years. “This year was important. Eight months ago when the economy was really struggling, we had genuine concerns about how this fall would go as far as enrollment and retention. But with the way things have turned out, I’m probably the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Although the official numbers for retention rate haven’t been released yet, Jim Thorius, vice president of Student Development and dean of students, is confident that Simpson has remained unwavering since the economy’s downturn in the past year.

“We’re still trying to make sense of the numbers because they’re not final,” Thorius said. “But it looks like the first-to- second-year retention rates are at an all-time high this year.”

According to Thorius, there are two factors in Simpson’s competition with other Iowa private colleges: the first to second year retention rate and the school’s graduation rate, both of which are reportedly high.

“Our graduation rate is very high,” Bolen said. “In fact, we’re among the top schools in the state. We’re up above the 60th percentile in those students who start their freshman year here and graduate from here, which is very, very good.”

Both Bolen and Thorius say the faculty and staff have been working on new retention strategies for the past few years.

Some of these new retention strategies include becoming more proactive in contacting students that may be having difficulties, implementing new services at the Hawley Academic Resource Center, the Student Support System program, bumping up registration dates and allowing seniors-for the first time-to register themselves for spring classes entirely online.

“Moving the registration date up helps students stay focused and keep their eye on the prize,” Thorius said. “Allowing students to register themselves online empowers the student and puts them in control.”

This year all of registration for the spring semester will be completed by Thanksgiving.

Thorius also says that moving the registration date up helps keep students’ minds from wandering to the ‘what if’ territory, helping to maintain focus on the task at hand-which, in most instances, is a college degree.

The Admissions Department has done their fair share as well. This fall there are a record number of transfer students, 73, which is believed to be result of the Admission Department’s targeting.

Admissions faculty say that with more students attending community colleges for the first two years, they are working with advisers to promote Simpson as a place to transfer and finish their bachelor degrees.

Another way the college has teamed up to improve retention rates is through the financial aid office.

“Of course there are all sorts of reasons why a student would choose to transfer out of Simpson,” Thorius said. “Reasons vary from change in major to family issues to personal issues, and occasionally there’s the student who transfers due to financial situations.”

Thorius said that financial issues arose about eight months ago when there were more and more adults getting laid off due to the economy.

Thorius and Bolen both agree that there has been no downward spike in Simpson’s retention due to the economy.

“I think that everybody on this campus needs to pat themselves on the back,” Bolen said. “I think there’s no question about it that they are a huge reason the retention rate is so high. I don’t know how you can improve on this retention rate. We know what we need to do to retain and attract new students. It’s a continuing effort and process.”