Retention: Striving for Student Success
Recently I attended a day-and-a-half retreat focused on student retention at our university. During this retreat, we not only looked at our retention numbers, but we examined our student affairs plan for retention, talked with students about their good (and bad) customer service experiences on campus, and got to hear the retention plan from most of major academic units. Yes, at times it was every bit as exciting as it sounds, but I did hear a few things that I found either interesting in a good way, or sometimes even interesting in a not-so-good way.
Our campus leaders began the retreat with a look at the numbers, as well as a look at strong retention strategies. Among successful strategies, living on campus and living-learning communities were mentioned. I have to admit, I cringed a bit on seeing LLCs on the big screen at the front of the room, knowing that we have had little success with them on our campus (and knowing that this was going to be one more project I now needed to fit into my already over-full plate). But fortunately, this was quickly followed with an emphatic statement that LLCs MUST have faculty involvement to be successful – it can’t just be our res life staff trying to initiate and maintain these. So maybe I won’t have to add that project to my plate just yet.
Among the not-so-good interesting points I noticed were three trends in the general presentations and the academic unit presentations.
1. 24/7 customer service expectations from all staff. I should clarify, I’m a big believer in customer service – I’ve seen how a crabby desk person can change a person’s mood just as quickly as a positive one can. But I don’t believe customer service means I need to be available to students 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I won’t be handing out my cell phone number to any student any time soon, and I think that’s perfectly appropriate. I absolutely cannot provide good customer service to students if I can’t set boundaries and maintain balance in my life. I was frustrated to see this presented time and time again throughout the retreat as a good practice.
2. There was no mention of residence life – or most other student services – in any of the academic unit presentations. As a matter of fact, many of them mentioned trying to create internal student service staff positions instead of using what is already out there for students. Again, I felt a frustration at this ongoing refusal of the usefulness of already established offices/staff by our faculty.
3. Using social media to assist students or even reach out to students was barely mentioned. And when it was mentioned, it was along the lines of, “And oh yea, we’re looking at some social networking stuff to reach out to students.” I was disappointed that this was not a larger focus by some of the academic units, as well as the administration, in providing support to our students. I seriously think we’re overlooking a very low-cost and beneficial resource here, and I believe we’ve been missing the boat as a university when it comes to this.
Obviously, we have some things to look at more closely at work on at our university. The good news is, we seem to have some really strong leaders who are taking the time to do this.
What are you doing at your university to promote student success and retention? Have you seen best practices in collaboration between academic units and residence life? How are your schools using social media and other technology to support students?
Kristen Abell is an associate director of residential life at the University of Missouri - Kansas City.