By Sophie Foster
The Washington College Retention Working Group released its annual retention report, under the leadership of Assistant Dean for Student Engagement and Success and Working Group Chair Tricia Biles and with guidance from Retention Consultant Dr. Charles Schroeder.
Dr. Schroeder introduced the annual report at a retention talk held in Hynson Lounge on Wednesday, Nov. 2.
Centering the dialogue around the weight of the student experience, Dr. Schroeder asked attendees to consider what makes a difference to students and what student expectations are.
“What matters the most to undergraduates coming in from a variety of backgrounds?” Dr. Schroeder said, urging faculty and staff to reflect on what students would do without their individual department — what the student experience would be without residence hall management or financial aid security.
According to the report, the first-year retention rate for the 2021-2022 academic year was 82.7 percent, reflecting a loss of 45 first-year students that dropped the class of 2025’s size from 260 to 215. The data tracked for retention includes genders, ethnicities, GPAs, residency circumstances, first generation status, Washington Scholar status, federal work study status, Pell eligibility, athletic status, and Presidential Fellow status of the first-year class.
The report fiund that 52.84 percent of unretained students were female, 60.56 percent were white, 59.86 percent were out-of-state students, and 38.69 percent were athletes, according to the report.
Additional significant figures include that 13.23 percent of withdrawn students were Black, 9.45 percent were Latinx, 26.99 percent were first generation, 18.04 percent were Pell grant recipients, 21.96 percent were Presidential Fellows.
The average first-year GPA of unretained students was 2.67, and the average for retained students was 3.21.
Out of the 45 withdrawn first-year students, 31 provided reasoning. Predominantly, the issues cited were physical health problems of either the student or a family member, emotional or psychological issues, feelings of being out of place on campus, the size of the College, and the high cost of attendance.
In approaching this retention position and setting an aspiration for the upcoming academic years, the RWG marked a retention of 90 percent as its three-to-five-year goal.
“The data indicates that increased retention efforts are needed,” the report said. “We are optimistic that our sense of urgency and current level of focus on retention will result in significant improvements for the future. We, like most of our peer institutions, must get better at navigating the challenges of our times.”
Recent brand surveying and informal focus groups indicated student dissatisfaction on campus, highlighting the impact of mental illness, academic decline, and other social variables. When looking to potential areas for improvement, the report accentuated qualities of student safety and wellbeing on campus, improved housing facilities and food services, the reduction of social cliques, and increased wi-fi access.
“The good news is that WC is in a season of renewal,” the report said. “We have a refreshed senior leadership team, coordinated campuswide retention efforts, and are making strategic investments in high impact areas.”
Some of this renewing includes the implementation of Mantra online counseling, the renovation of residence halls such as Minta Martin and Reid Halls, the introduction of new food service vendor AVI Foodsystems, the creation of positions for diversity and inclusion professionals, and the updating of the Wi-Fi.
From these successes, the report derived several “high impact imperatives” for continuing to improve the College’s retention rates. These imperatives included overhauling client relationship management systems to build student-centered communication, investing in student wellness, identifying strategies to appropriately address financial concerns, working to ensure the timeliness of midterm grade submissions for early intervention efforts, the alignment of retention work with strategic planning, the increasing of registrar capacity, and the continuation of successful endeavors with inclusivity, Wi-Fi, residency, and dining.
According to Dr. Schroeder, “highly effective colleges and universities create, nurture, and sustain a few ‘high-impact experiences’ that affect large numbers of first-and-second-year students in consistently meaningful ways.”
Additionally, the plan recommended an expanded capacity for “holistic, developmental advising” through both the training of faculty advisors and the budgeting for additional professional advising. The goal of revamping online orientation processes was also addressed, as well as the aspiration to expand RWG focus to encompass the sophomore class.
All data regarding retention for the previous academic year can be found on the WC website, www.washcoll.edu. Any questions, comments, or concerns tied to this subject matter should be directed to Tricia Biles at email@example.com.