Simpson College officials address declining retention

Student retention rate falls 5 percentage points

by Laura Wiersema, News Editor

While Simpson College’s retention rate is still well above the national average, it has fallen from 2015, which could mean another increase in tuition for current students.

When schools report on retention rates, they tend to report on retention from freshman to sophomore year, when the most students leave. In 2015, Simpson reported a retention rate of 82 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. It was projected that this year would remain about the same, but reported numbers are showing about 77 percent for 2016, Jim Hayes said in a recent faculty meeting.

Heidi Levine, vice president of student development, said students might not return for a number of reasons, which include academic, health or financial blocks. Depending on when Simpson faculty are informed that a student is considering transferring, they do whatever they can to help. Sometimes that means connecting students to resources to help them succeed academically or directing them to financial aid.

While Simpson does make an effort to help students who are struggling with the decision about withdrawing, there are some situations they can’t help.

“We are certainly not going to say to somebody, ‘No, you need to sacrifice your health or your mental health or your safety or your well-being in order to stay here,’” Levine said.

Many students, Levine said, will take a hiatus with the intention of returning to Simpson when circumstances change.

That is exactly what junior Sarah Clark did. After attending Simpson her freshman year, Clark took a year off to re-evaluate her goals.

“I needed to distance myself from school to have a more open mind about my future and figure out what I really wanted to do,” she said. “Taking a year off and working full time really put into perspective how much I enjoy learning, and taking the few classes I did back home made me realize how much I like helping others learn.”

Many times, Simpson is not able to provide assistance to students who are thinking of leaving, whether it be that the school does not have the program of study they now want to focus on or because of personal issues.

“Some students leave because they have chosen to pursue a program of study that we just don’t have. Some students leave for financial reasons,” Levine said. “Sometimes there are things that are truly beyond our ability to do anything about.”

Clark said she was forcing herself down the wrong path her first year at Simpson. Convinced for years that she would go into graphic design, she found herself unhappy in her art classes but not sure what else to focus her studies on. Now as she returns as an English and philosophy double major, she enjoys her classes more.

“I think it’s important for first-years to realize that it’s great if have your whole life plan figured out now, but it’s also OK if you don’t have a clue,” Clark said. “There’s no shame in knowing that you need to step back and try a different approach if you’re unhappy with the track you’re on.”