I recently wrote about the myriad ways we are working to recruit more students to SIU Carbondale. These efforts are paying off. Our number of transfer students is up as is our yield rate for getting admitted students to register for classes. For the second year in a row, our freshman class had the highest average ACT scores in at least 20 years.
But the real bright point in our enrollment data has been our retention rate. Though we know that no institution will ever achieve 100 percent retention, our ultimate goal is to usher every student who enrolls all the way through to graduation and into a fulfilling career.
We are getting closer to that goal. We retained 75 percent of the freshmen who enrolled last year, up from 71 percent the previous year and 67 percent before that.
We plan on pushing that number higher, as we believe that every student accepted into our university has the potential to succeed. And, we know those students cannot succeed without an exceptional support system while they are here.
So, what are we doing to get students from enrollment to career or graduate school? Here’s the first of a two-part snapshot of our many retention efforts.
Research has shown that students who are involved on campus are more likely to graduate, and we have taken that to heart.
To get students involved, we hold events throughout the year to introduce them to the many registered student organizations, Greek life and other student programs that we offer, including our newest offering — an Esports Arena. We provide opportunities to volunteer in the community, work on campus, and get practical career experience with hands-on learning and internships. We provide opportunities to volunteer in the community, work on campus, and get practical career experience with hands-on learning and internships.
This all contributes to a culture that not only attracts students, but makes them want to stay here.
Support from step one
From the moment students are admitted into the university, we reach out to ensure they understand their next steps. We hold special events for admitted students, such as New Student Orientations (NSOs), to introduce them to the university and other students admitted into their programs.
During the students’ first weeks on campus, we hold a number of fun and educational events, which we call Weeks of Welcome. We hold campus-wide events like Watermelon Fest and Family Weekend, and individual degree programs host events specifically for their students to meet faculty, staff and other students who share their interests.
Our Living Learning Communities group students in university housing by program or interest, so that students are able to support each other. These LLCs not only provide a shared living space for students to study and collaborate, but plan events throughout the year that cater to those students’ expressed interests.
Specialized support helps students overcome challenges
Our First Saluki Center focuses on the challenges faced by students who are the first in their families to attend college. These students are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have an adult at home who has been through the unique experience of university life. Because of that, they are less likely to finish their degrees.
The First Saluki Center provides them with the extra support they need, including mentors and resources to ensure a positive and successful college experience.
Our Saluki Success Program expands that support to all students. Starting with UNIV 101 — required for all students in their first semester — the program teaches students academic and personal skills to help them balance work, life and school.
They learn how to navigate college life, access department, college and university level resources, explore their work values and interests, and get a snapshot of our rich Saluki history and traditions.
Students in this course are grouped by major, so they can meet their peers, get acquainted with the faculty they will work with, and better understand their career options.
Saluki Cares helps students who are struggling to connect with the resources to help them move forward. If certain students haven’t attended class in a while, their grades start to slip, or a member of the faculty or staff see other signs of distress, Saluki Cares staff will reach out to the student.
The staff can help students talk through their issues, refer them to Student Health Services, help them find a tutor, connect them with resources to help with financial difficulties, and more.
These are just some of the ways we focus on retention. I’ll include others in my next blog post.