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Retention rate rises 4-5 points

Over the past three years, Concordia’s student retention rate for first to second year students has increased from 79-80 percent to 84 percent.

“This is a significant increase for any college over that time period,” Mike Reese, coordinator of Student Success and Retention Services, said.

In comparison, the most current retention rates available for other schools are 68.9 percent for Minnesota State University-Moorhead and 81.4 percent for Hamline University, according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education’s 2009 report of the 2007-08 academic year. The average student retention rate for Minnesota private colleges is 84 percent. Reasons for Concordia’s positive change in retention rates are a greater focus on student retention and student satisfaction, new retention strategies and a collective effort by administration, faculty and staff to emphasize the importance of student retention.

This jump is a significant improvement because Concordia had been in a holding pattern of 79-80 percent for many years, Reese said. Most schools would be happy with a one or two percentage increase, he said, but Concordia has made substanial strides in improving retention and student satisfaction.

Reese said student retention is a challenge facing all higher education institutions and has become a front burner topic. Colleges and universities see the importance of student retention now more than ever. Retention and graduation rates are strong indicators of an institution’s success, and the economy, pricing, enrollment trends and increased recruiting competition all play a part. According to Reese, when a student is engaged in their learning, is involved on campus and has resources available to them, it creates the conditions for student success and retention. Students who are learning and are satisfied at a school will stay at that school and ultimately graduate.

Two and a half years ago, Concordia’s Enrollment Division created the Office of Student Success and Retention Services as an initiative to begin to develop and implement retention strategies. The overall focus of the office is to provide personal student support services, assist them with college related concerns, get them to the right resource on campus and help connect with the college to create a successful and rewarding experience.

One of the retention initiatives developed by the Office of Student Success that Reese said has been successful and well received by students is the peer mentoring program. He said peer mentoring is an effective retention tool that is becoming increasingly more popular on campuses across the country.

“Some of the best mentors of college students are other students,” Reese said. “Peer mentors quickly relate and are well received by students because they are students who are themselves involved in the college experience.”

Peer mentors are trained upperclassmen who offer guidance and help students navigate the college system. Peer mentoring at Concordia has the freshman class as its focus because the first year of college is a critical time for student adjustment. Getting students’ academic and social life in balance creates a very meaningful college experience. The current peer mentoring program is applying for International Peer Mentor Certification through the College Reading and Learning Association.

Zach Schnitzler, a junior and Student Success peer mentor, said the terms ‘student success’ and ‘retention’ really go hand- in- hand.

“Student success and satisfaction are the reasons students persist, succeed, and in the end, graduate,” Schnitzler said. “Our office puts on social and educational events throughout the year to get the campus community involved and connecting to the college. We have an open-door policy in our office so anybody can walk in if they need help with almost any aspect of the college life.”

Mark Krejci, provost and dean of the college, said Concordia has a high retention rate due to the rich faculty content, the great teaching and the community environment.

“The size of our classrooms with the ability for students to make relationships with professors is a huge contributor to retention,” Krejci said. “College is a great experience if someone is willing to walk with you on the journey.”

Krejci said the Office of Student Success is a point of contact for students with college related concerns. Reese receives referrals from professors about students who are struggling in some aspect, and Krejci said Reese and the student mentors do a great job walking with the students on that journey.

Schnitzler said the Student Success peer mentor program has had a great influence on him. The more he helps people, the more he learns from the experiences. Schnitzler likes how Student Success gives him a chance to meet new people and, fulfill his desire to serve the campus community.

“I am learning new skills that I will have to use in the ‘real world,’” Schnitzler said.
Reese agrees with Schnitzler.

“If a student takes advantage of all the resources and support available to them here at Concordia,” Reese said. “They will achieve their goals, realize their potential, and experience real world success.”

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