As we begin the first few days of orientation, a new generation of Hokies is joining this exclusive club, becoming a member of the Virginia Tech community.
This group known as the class of 2014 will be a part of our community for hopefully at least four years.
Unfortunately, the past indicates that a percentage of this class will not be around for the entire duration.
Some will decide to transfer, some will decide to leave school, and some will forced to leave due to academic or judicial issues. This should come as no surprise, as each cohort of students faces the same barriers.
However, I argue that the issue of retention will be an important one for this group and those that come after them in light of the current economic climate.
We often don’t talk about the importance of retention but rather focus on the needs of recruitment. While recruitment is key in attracting students, retention is much more crucial to ensuring the success of these students.
Retention is also indicative of the type of environment that we have at the institution. If we can’t retain our students, why would students come here for an academic degree?
When we talk about environment, some will point to the surroundings of the campus.
However, it is much more than that as it encompasses how one feels, how one adapts, how one learns and how one is treated within this setting. This setting could be the residence halls, the dining halls, an academic building, a classroom, etc.
For every student that was admitted, there are many that were not accepted; it was certainly a competitive process. Tech made a decision to accept a student, the student and their parents made the decision to accept the offer.
This begins the official relationship between the institution and the student, and a commitment to provide an environment that will be conducive for the success of the student and result in an academic degree.
As members of the community, we need to ensure that we do not provide excuses or reasons for members of this class of 2014 or any other class to leave the university.
While there will be things beyond the student’s control, we should take a reflective look at how our actions and those of others and can impact members of the community.
In an ideal world, we should have as close to a 100 percent retention rate for this class of 2014.
Why not set this as a collective goal? Why is it that members of underrepresented populations have lower retention rates than their white counterparts? What is happening to impact this? Can we change this?
Why are there certain classes where students have to constantly retake? Are their other factors impacting this?
If students can’t be retained, what does this say about our community?
Does it say that we were only concerned about the objective of getting them here and that was it? Did we do all that we could to help these members of the community to be successful?
And the issue of retention is not just a student issue. While the dynamics may be different, this issue of retention is just as critical for faculty and staff. For example, tenure-track faculty have to deal with the rigors of the tenure process, administrative and professional faculty have to deal with the annual nature of job contracts, while staff have to deal with the shifting landscape of supervisors, managerial changes, and the ever-present fiscal challenges.
As we think about retention, we need to look at those that are just entering the system such as the class of 2014 as well as those that are already here.
While each (students, faculty and staff) will have different motivations and contributions, they share the common bond and desire of wanting to be a part of this community.
Can we ensure the continued success of all of these groups? Can we, in May 2014, talk with pride about the near 100 percent retention of the class of 2014?