Retention rates drop at UWM

Campus-wide retention rates are down to 68.5 percent, according to UWM’s latest one-year retention rates. The rates have been declining every year since 2008.

Keri Duce, the assistant director for student success, expressed UWM’s concern in regards to the rates.

“The fact that we lose 30 percent of students for one year is troubling.”

The overwhelming majority of UWM’s schools and colleges have had their retention rates drop from 2005, the first year listed in the university’s statistical reports. The Lubar School of Business has seen its rates drop from 69.2 percent to 62.9 percent. The College of Health and Sciences had the biggest drop, going from 82.2 percent in 2005 to 74.7 percent in the latest reports. However, the College of Engineering & Applied Science has increased from 71 percent to 81.6 percent and the College of Nursing increased from 66.7 percent in 2005 to 76.4 percent in the latest reports.

Associate Vice Chancellor Phyllis King attributes the fluctuation of rates between the varying schools and colleges to the students’ own interests.

“I believe those schools are taking off because students are self-select the program,” King said. “There’s more aptitude in those schools. For example, the ACT scores for Engineering is higher than the campus average.”

While addressing campus-wide rates, King mentioned the fact that UWM is an access university has to be factored in.

“We have access in our mission,” King said. “We accept students with challenges and it’s our responsibility to support them. If we accept them, we must provide support to succeed.”

Having this mission allows for students like Devin Walters to attend UWM. Walters was not accepted by three different UW system schools before being accepted to Milwaukee. He was officially enrolled a year, but said he stopped attending classes well before then. Walters explained he chose UWM over entering the job market right out of high school.

“I had to choose between college and getting a job,” he said. “I chose college and wanted to be there. However, the actual school aspect is something I just did not want to do.”

According to King, UWM wants to get the retention rate up to 75 percent. To help students like Walters and reach that goal, UWM offers a variety of different programs dedicated to aiding in the retention of students.

The programs are a part of the “Access to Success” initiative UWM has in place. According to the school’s website, Access to Success is the “campus blueprint to enhance access to UWM, while at the same time, promoting greater student success.” One of the goals of Access to Success is to “increase first-year retention and performance of all freshman.”

King mentioned one of the most successful programs to come from this, is participation in undergrad research.

“Students are more engaged with faculty, which lends to higher retention rates,” King said. “We offer grants to faculty who support students in their research. The students and faculty being more engaged really helps.”

Another successful program King mentioned is offering students tutors for what are called “gateway” courses. These are courses that are fundamental to a major. For example, a journalist major here at UWM must take and pass JAMS 101 before continuing in that major’s path.

“These courses are the first challenges to students,” King said. “So provide tutoring and support for the students helps.”

To continue along the support motif, UWM also offers what are called “Learning Communities.” Keri Duce runs the Learning Communities and explained the purpose is to help the students get used to college and all college entails.

“The goal is to create and environment to help students adjust to the academic rigors of college,” Duce said.

The different types of Learning Communities are: First-Year Seminars, Intro to Profession, First Year Impact Section, Paired Courses and Living Learning Communities (LLC). Duce highlighted the Living Learning Communities as the most successful program.

She said how the LLC is a commitment to the first year students. Duce explained the LLC consists of 20 students who live on the same floor and take at least one class together.

“The students live together, go to class together and even go on field trips together,” Duce said. “Their professors teach them about college life. They are assigned a peer mentor.”

Duce further explained the program was to create friendships and feeling of comfort so students will want to stay here at UWM.

“There are mainly two reasons a student doesn’t come back,” Duce said. “One is that they are not doing academically well for various reasons. And the other is because that students had no friends here.”

Duce also runs the program MAP-Works (Making Achievement Possible). She explained students take a 100 question survey about a month or two into college. The survey is then sent to a success coach. The success coach can then see each student’s issues. The coach and student then meet and set a two-week, end of the semester and end of the year goal.

“The idea is to improve personal and academic improvement,” Duce said.

Beyond the programs, King acknowledged that help with retaining students can start even before getting to college.

“We really need to work with training teachers in the K-12 system,” King said. “They need to know expectations for college so they can better prepare students. High school students need to be better prepared. College is very different from high school and we need to provide resources for a successful transition.”

The problem is that high schools don’t always take kindly to college’s advising them, according to Duce.

“High schools don’t want us to tell them what to do, so we have to show them the statistics and hope they adjust,” Duce said.

In the end, retention rates are a priority here at UWM. The university is taking this problem head-on by offering all the programs they do. However, retaining students does ultimately come down to the students.

“We can provide all the support in the world, but if the student isn’t committed, there is nothing we can do.”