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UWRF seeks to improve retention

April 5, 2007

UW-River Falls is looking to improve the success of its students and increase the number of students who remain enrolled. To help achieve these goals, the University hired a consultant.

Tim Culver, a consultant and vice president of retention services for Noel-Levitz, visited UWRF at the beginning of March for a day and a half. Noel-Levitz is a company that helps campuses and systems meet their enrollment and marketing goals and student success.

Alan Tuchtenhagen, associate vice chancellor for enrollment services, said Culver spent a day talking with students, staff and faculty and gathered data about the University and its students to develop a report for the administration with recommendations.

“He confirmed some things we are doing very well and helped point us in a direction that can continue to make students successful here,” Tuchtenhagen said.

Provost Charlie Hurt said the consultant was asked to visit the campus because while UWRF’s six-year graduation rate is well above the national average, the University would like to increase that number.

According to ACT Inc., UWRF’s six-year graduation rate is 55 percent. The national average is 41.1 percent for traditional, public institutions.

Hurt also said while the University’s retention rate is at the national average, it wants to increase it.

Freshman students Emily Steltenpohl and Natasha Arnold said it was probably good that the University is looking at how it can improve the number of students who stay at UWRF.

“The University should be concerned about keeping students because our facilities aren’t good, such as the health and human performance building,” Steltenpohl said. “Students are paying about the same as other UW institutions with better facilities. Why not go elsewhere? I thought about it.”

Arnold said UWRF should be concerned about student retention only if it has to do with the University itself.

“Maybe it should be concerned if it has something to do with the school or the professors, but if students are transferring to a college that is better suited for what they are majoring in, the University shouldn’t be worried,” Arnold said.

A random survey Culver distributed to a small number of students living in UWRF residence halls revealed students are satisfied with many areas of the University.

Some key areas students said they were satisfied with are the comfortable living conditions in residence halls, the variety of courses offered on campus, the maintenance of the campus, the prompt response of security staff to emergencies, the new University Center and fair student disciplinary procedures.

An area students said they were unsatisfied with is the inadequate selection of food available in the cafeteria.

A few recommendations Culver presented to University staff in a PowerPoint presentation were to improve the advising program by helping advisors work more with students, continue to engage students in programs, such as the First Year Experience (FYE) program and gather better data about students because it helps give insights into the needs and expectations of students.

The FYE program helps UWRF students be successful in college with programs, such as new student registration, weeks of welcome, academic day and family day.

Steltenpohl and Arnold said though they are first-year students at UWRF, they were not involved in FYE. Steltenpohl said she heard from other people that it helps students meet others, however, it doesn’t help them with areas, such as scheduling.

“I didn’t participate in the program, but from what people have told me, it hasn’t helped them at all,” Steltenpohl said. “They said the program doesn’t tell students useful information, such as how to add a class with a green card or scheduling at all.”

Steltenpohl said no matter what, student success should be more important than retention rates. She also said it is important to find out why students aren’t being successful at the campus.

This was part of another recommendation Culver made, which is to not focus on retention rates, but rather focus on student success and why students don’t finish college at UWRF.

“The retention rate from [students’] first to second years is 70 percent, but what happens to the 30 percent? Right now, [this percent] is counted as a failure,” Hurt said. “We need to be better at finding out why they are not here. We also need to look at what kind of students are here so we can target more of those students.”

Tuchtenhagen agreed with Hurt.

“We really want to focus on students who are not successful and help them be successful,” he said. “And if our enrollment is to grow at all, it makes sense to make students who want to be here stay here.”

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