WKU forms retention task force

Joanna Williams

In 2007, the University of Kentucky declared a “War on Attrition.”

In 2011, WKU is encouraging faculty and staff to “Rally for Retention.”

President Gary Ransdell gave the opening convocation to faculty and staff on Aug. 22, stressing the importance of retaining students and the potential money that could be brought into the university as a result. As he spoke he sported a button on his coat that read “Rally for Retention.”

Because of this, Gordon Emslie, Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, has put together a retention task force whose aim is “getting students in, getting students through, keeping students around and getting students out,” according to Ransdell’s speech.

Ransdell said he hopes the task force will initiate a new attitude among incoming college students.

“I would expect students to come here with the expectation that they will graduate,” he said. “I think that’s been lacking too much.”

Brian Meredith, associate vice president for Enrollment Management and co-director of the task force, said the group is made up of 16 members from various departments and offices on campus.

“It’s exploring a lot of different avenues such as what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong and what the students need,” Meredith said. “The committee is looking at it holistically, from A to Z.”

Fall 2009 through fall 2010 retention is at 73.7 percent according to the Common Data Set, with the fall 2011 report coming in November.

Co-coordinator of Developmental Education and task force member, Sharon Hunter, said the task force has made a two-year commitment since so much of their work will rely on data that will take much time to become apparent.

Hunter said the group’s goal by the end of the two years is to have 80 percent retention.

The task force has already reached out to members of the class of 2015 during this year’s MASTER Plan. The class signed a two-way contract which states they will each make the commitment to get a degree, and in turn, the university commits to help them be successful.

“That’s what college is — a partnership,” Hunter said.

Other changes implemented include placing students into developmental math tracks according to college readiness needs and implementing a retention software package to provide data on at-risk students based on non-academic reasons.

The software will notify the task force if a student is at risk for not being retained for reasons other than school work. According to the committee’s research, this is the main reason a student does not return.

“Turns out five of six students who do not come back for their sophomore year do so for non-academic reasons,” Emslie  said. “By alerting us to non-academic issues, we can intervene appropriately.”

Meredith said that once data and statistics are gathered, WKU can use more personal efforts to reach out to students.

“I think you have to have data to make informed decisions,” he said. “We needed to look at where we are at the moment, and move on from there.”

Hunter said the task force has been working since the beginning of the summer and plans to slow down soon are not in mind.

“We’re focused like we’ve never been before as an institution,” she said.