Involvement ups retention rates

Student involvement is one of the main ways retention rates are improving at NKU.

Of all full-time, undergraduate students attending in the fall of 2011, 67.2 percent returned in the fall of 2012, according to documents released by NKU’s Department of Institutional Research.

Involvement is a key portion of improving those numbers. Betty Mulkey, director of Student Life, has seen those retention numbers stand out in various organizations.

“We have a menu of opportunities that seems to fit every student’s lifestyle and schedule, which greatly contributes in them staying here,” said Mulkey.

There are currently 214 student organizations, with nearly 5,300 students participating in those organizations. That is a 72 percent growth in the past 10 years, according to Mulkey. Last fall into this fall saw various freshmen programs with high retention rates.

“If you engage freshmen early, they connect earlier and are far more likely to stay,” said Mulkey.

Fresh Start, a community service program for freshmen, saw 92 percent of their students return. Mulkey also credits the Freshman Service Leadership Committee (FSLC) with much of this freshmen retention, introducing students to other organizations and keeping them actively involved.

Fraternities and sororities make up nine percent of the university population; those Greek life organizations experience a 95 percent retention rate year to year, according to Mulkey

“It becomes your university; that sense of community makes you feel like you belong,” said Peg Adams, director of University Connect and Persist, a department focused on promoting student networking and involvement.

Students who join organizations tend to feel a great sense of belonging, Adams explained. The more people they know and interact with, the more they want to stick around semester to semester.

“Sometimes students don’t know of the opportunities around them. It’s up to us as staff and faculty to make them aware,” said Adams.

Mulkey and Adams both believe that all students should feel involved, and both of their departments work to ensure that students are aware of the opportunities available to them.

Involvement “encompasses many things” Adams believes, and all of the opportunities, even sporting events, give that sense of belonging which can help to retain students.

Both Adams and Mulkey credit the gradually improving numbers to the vast variety of opportunities that exist for all students within every major and are hopeful the numbers will continue to grow.

There is, however; room for improvement in the retention numbers, especially with freshmen.

Getting freshmen involved so that they stay on sophomore year and beyond begins with freshmen-specific events and activities, such as the freshmen Book Connection and University 101 courses.

“We care about retention, but what we really care about is student learning,” said Adams.

It’s about getting every student to graduation and then being sure each student is highly employable beyond graduation, explained Mulkey. Making NKU feel like home gets students to a place of great success increasing those retention numbers.

“If a student feels they don’t fit in, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Adams.

This explains why the university is working their hardest to ensure all students are as involved as they possibly can be.

“The gradually improving retention numbers are a real benchmark for if we’re succeeding; if we achieve above the average, we’re doing our jobs right,” said Mulkey.
Factors like schedule quality and education levels also give students the want to return.

“At the end of the day it’s about a student’s happiness,” said Adams.

With these ideas in mind and a variety of involvement opportunities, student retention is likely to not only remain a huge focus of the university, but also to continue allowing the numbers to increase in the coming years to better standards.