New initiative hopes to raise retention rate : Goal set at 85%

After recently receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Lawrence has set up a new retention and graduation initiative headed by Professor of Music and Teacher of Saxophone Steven Jordheim.

In early February, Lawrence received a five-year, $2.1 million grant. This grant is geared toward institutions with a large number of students who wouldn’t be able to attend the college without significant financial aid.

To help remedy these problems, the Title III grant will be put towards improving the retention rate at Lawrence. Currently, the university’s retention rate is at 75 percent. The program’s goal is to improve this to 85 percent. Jordheim was chosen from a large list of applicants to head this program.

“We chose Steven Jordheim because we wanted someone who cared about retention and was very passionate about working with students,” said David Burrows, Provost and Dean of the Faculty. “He is very efficient at administering academic programs and has been interested for several years in a position of this sort.”

Retention rate is broken down by class, with usually the biggest drop in the  rate in the freshman class. At Lawrence, the percentage of freshmean who don’t return for a sophomore year is at 10 percent. This is not unusual, but what is odd is the percentage for sophomores and juniors.

According to Burrows, the sophomore and junior percentage rates should be half that of the freshmenrates. The current rates for sophomores and juniors are 8 to 9 percent attrition, which is well above the expected 5 percent.

The administration is not sure why the retention rate is low, but the problem has been on their radar for some time. “Many Lawrence faculty and staff have been involved in such efforts, but we’ve never before had the financial means to develop and implement a plan to address these issues in a comprehensive manner,” Jordheim said. “The Title III grant provides such an opportunity.”

Director of Corporate, Foundation and Sponsored Research Support Jenna Stone also played a large role in getting the grant by making a formal proposal. “This grant project has the potential to bring about increased success for all our students, and I was eager to work with my colleagues in supporting the initiatives outlined in the grant proposal,” Jordheim said.

While the source of the low retention rate may not be known, Burrows speculates that students are more likely to leave Lawrence if paying for school is a financial burden and they are not doing well academically.

The initiative will be working to fix the retention rate by focusing on improving and adding certain programs.

Academically, the initiative plans on adding a bridge program in the summer to help incoming students improve their critical reading and writing skills before they enter college. This program is being added because the administration has seen a strong correlation between the students who struggle in Freshman Studies and those who don’t continue at Lawrence.

The initiative will also add more people to academic services and add a learning specialist to work with students who are having a difficult time learning. A new student tracking system is also in the works. This will allow teachers and students to be notified more quickly if a student is struggling in a class.

Another focus is on helping students adjust to college life. This year, the CORE Program was implemented on a small scale for the freshman class. Next year, all Freshman Studies classes will be a part of a CORE group lead by two older student leaders. The program will also work with academic advisors so that they are better educated about the concerns of attrition.

“Improving the retention rate at Lawrence will mean that the students who enroll here are making an informed decision regarding their college choice; are experiencing steady growth in their academic, creative and personal development; and are reaching their goal of completing their degree at Lawrence,” Jordheim said.