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Retention, recruitment issues present challenges

February 28, 2014

The number of new freshman at UW-River Falls has decreased by about 20 percent since the peak of enrollment during fall 2008, according to statistics from recruitment and retention officials.

Recruiting new students has been a challenge for UWRF in recent years, due to a lower population of graduating high school seniors in the area. Attracting students and then retaining students is one goal of UWRF, said Kris Anderson, associate vice chancellor for Enrollment and Student Success.

Low numbers for recruitment and retention are issues that plague universities across the country.

“It’s not just a UWRF phenomenon. It’s a national phenomenon,” Anderson said.

Anderson said marketing will be crucial in order to recruit new students. She specifically said she would like to see revisions of the UWRF website and social media.

“I think we have all the pieces, but we just need to pull it together in an intentional way,” Anderson said.

Anticipating change in demographics of the area and being prepared for those changes will be important. Presenting UWRF as a diverse and inclusive community with be crucial, especially with the expansion of the local Latino community, Anderson said.

Research has been done to find reasons behind the decrease in the student population at UWRF. Admissions and retention staff are currently drawing conclusions based on the statistics. While some students decide to leave UWRF, most decide to stay; about 72 percent of new students return for a second year, along with about 76 percent of transfer students.

Meg Kawse, a senior majoring in marketing communications, chose to stay at UWRF because it was a simpler choice. She also stated that internships will be more valuable in her field than where she obtains her degree. The number of students at UWRF is lower than desired. Having a decrease in students on campus means that there are less segregated fees, which go toward funding for campus resources, Anderson said.

A strategic enrollment plan has been set in place to identify a goal for ideal campus population of UWRF. Several programs have been implemented to retain new students. One goal of programs like Falcon Scholars and learning communities within residence halls is to connect and engage students on campus.

This fall, two retention specialists were hired to increase the success and retention of new students at UWRF. Noah Hilte, a UWRF physics graduate, mentors students who are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Megan LaFontaine, multicultural retention specialist for the Academic Success Center, mentors those who identify as students of color.

Hilte and LaFontaine act as compliments to academic advisors and provide additional resources and support for new students. Students are able to set up appointments with retention specialists to voice concerns or gain support on a variety of issues.

“My goal is to help students reach their success,” LaFontaine said.

The challenges of each student are different and are identified through conversation with retention specialists. Both Hilte and Lafontaine have had a number of positive interactions with students.

Hilte described an appointment where he was able to help a student interested in engineering search for careers for an hour. A student personally thanked LaFontaine for helping her make the Dean’s List.

All students are encouraged by Anderson to get involved in the campus community and spread the word about UWRF.