Ultimately, who wins when retention is strong and students are graduating within four-six years? First to second year retention and persistence towards graduation are truly important issues that universities are struggling with and always trying to improve. Like many institutions, Fresno Pacific University employs many best practice initiatives that we feel strengthen our persistence efforts and give our students the best chance to succeed. We do this for myriad reasons (to name but a few):
- We care about students and we want to see them succeed.
- Tuition is the main source of revenue on most small college campuses and all exits hurt financially.
- It’s less expensive to retain a student than it is to recruit a new one (a 2018 Noel Levitz report indicates private schools pay an average of $2,457 to recruit each new student).
- Retention rates and graduation rates directly affect prestige as an academic institution.
Many folks feel that retention efforts primarily benefit the university. If we really cared about students, why would we be concerned where they graduate, so long as they do graduate, right? I’d like to suggest that if we really do care about students, helping them complete their degree at the first college they attend is crucial. According to a 2014 article in College Factual, only 13 percent of students are able to graduate in six years after transferring colleges (those that transfer from four-year to four-year schools or from a community college without an associate degree in hand). The article states that “the biggest blocker for transfer students is not being able to transfer credits. Only 32 percent of these transfer students are able to keep all of their credits, meaning students will most likely have to retake classes to earn credits they have already earned before.”
Data supports the fact that FPU graduates and retains students at a higher rate than any other school in the Central Valley. We also retain students at a higher rate than what our incoming student’s academic profile would predict. Why do we do so well? What are we doing so different than Fresno State, UC Merced and regional community colleges? While I can’t articulate every program and best practice initiative we do that our competitors may not do, I’ve discovered one common trait that makes students want to stay and be a part of this community of learners: our personal approach to every single student.
I John 3:16-18 states: “16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” I’ve taken some significant time to observe how faculty and staff interact with students. It’s truly amazing. The care, concern and individualized attention faculty give to students, whether that be in advising sessions, office hours or simply passing on the lawn, is remarkable. Watching coaches have lunch with their players and walk with them around campus shows that our athletics staff truly understand what it means to build leaders and people of character and integrity through the medium of sport. Witnessing professional staff all around campus take time to listen to and respond to the unique needs of each student illustrates their overwhelming desire to see students experience success in all aspects of campus life. As much as I witness this on the home campus, I’m assured that relationships throughout the regional campuses reflect these types of connections as well.
This year as we begin to rethink some of our retention and persistence efforts and develop new strategies to help students stay here at FPU and graduate on time, we must never forget that students choose this place and stay here because they feel significantly connected and valued. We are a team of professionals that deeply cares about the growth and development of every student that enters this community. Students see that. They feel that. It’s genuine and exists because we know we’re called to love people well and give of ourselves for the benefit of others. No matter what we do going forward, intentional and authentic student connections will always be our Number 1 retention strategy. Not surprisingly, students AND the institution both share the benefits (or the “win”) of a university dedicated to student persistence and success.