Reports and study show gradual change, push engagement

Monica Kast

Reports and a study presented at the Board of Regents from the Executive and Student Affairs committees show slight increase in enrollment and a connection between student engagement and retention.

The enrollment report for spring 2016, presented by Brian Meredith, chief enrollment and graduation officer, compared enrollment after eight weeks of classes to enrollment at the same time last year. Overall enrollment is slightly higher although the number of freshmen enrolled is slightly lower.

The Student Engagement and Retention Study, presented by Todd Misener, assistant director of health and fitness, shows the relationship between student engagement and student retention.

Misener’s study shows that the more students are engaged on campus and the more activities they are involved in, the more likely they are to stay enrolled at WKU.

The enrollment report states that as of March 19, there are 18,566 total students enrolled at WKU. Total enrollment has increased by approximately 1.7 percent, according to the report.

There are 118 fewer freshmen students, 70 fewer sophomores and 64 fewer seniors than ther were this time last year. The only class that saw an increase in its number of students was the junior class, who currently have 162 more students enrolled this year than last year, according to the report.

Additionally, the number of minority students enrolled has increased by nearly 2.5 percent. However, the number of international students enrolled has decreased by nearly 1.5 percent, according to the report.

The study presented and conducted by Misener was done over the course of the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 academic years and looks at the relationship between student engagement on campus and retention on campus.

According to the study, “the average Fall to Fall retention rate for First Year First-Time Freshmen who engaged in 2 or more different Student Affairs programs was 17.5% higher than other First Year First-Time students.”

The study also notes that “58% of all First Year First-Time Freshmen (1,709 students) were engaged in 2 or more different Student Affairs Programs in 2014-2015.”

The average retention for first-year, first-time freshmen was approximately 71 percent in 2013-2014 and approximately 70 percent in 2014-2015, according to the report.

“Consistently, as students engage more and more and more on campus, they generally end up sticking around on campus for much longer periods of time,” Misener said. “That pattern holds true in their sophomore year as well.”

The study also concluded that “from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015, First Year First-Time Freshmen and Full-Time Sophomore WKU students who engage in 2 or more different Student Affairs programs had a 15 percent higher retention rate.”

“The basic conclusion to the study is that students who engage in college and the college experience at Western generally stay at Western,” Misener said.

Misener also said the study helps identify the students who are not staying at WKU past their freshman year.

“More importantly, who doesn’t engage?” Misener asked. “Why don’t they engage? And how can we get them to engage better?”

Misener also said the potential for moving to performance-based funding was one of the reasons he chose to look at engagement and retention over a two-year time period.

“Honestly, that’s precisely why I have chosen over the last two years to spend my time researching the role that student affairs plays in the retention of students,” Misener said of potential budget cuts.

Later, he added that this study shows what WKU can do to increase retention and what programs are working best. 

“What I’m proposing is if we can identify students that are at increased risk or who aren’t engaging, that we make a concerted effort to connect with them and see if we can’t get them that little extra friendly push in the direction they need of getting the advice or support they need,” Misener said.