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The Suburbanite
  • Universities working to reduce dropout rate

  • It's a startling number. As many as 40 percent of students drop out during their freshman year at local universities.
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    • FRESHMAN RETENTION RATES
      The number of first-time students pursuing bachelor's degrees who began in Fall 2011 and returned in Fall 2012.
      • Ohio State University, main campus, Colum...
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      FRESHMAN RETENTION RATES
      The number of first-time students pursuing bachelor's degrees who began in Fall 2011 and returned in Fall 2012.
      • Ohio State University, main campus, Columbus: 92 percent
      • Kent State University, main campus, Kent 77: percent
      • University of Mount Union: 76 percent
      • Walsh University: 74 percent
      • Youngstown State University: 69 percent
      • University of Akron: 67 percent
      • Malone University: 63 percent
      • Kent State University, Stark: 59 percent
      GRADUATION RATES
      Full-time first-degree seeking students who began studies in Fall 2006 and completed degree within 6 years.
      • Ohio State University, main campus, Columbus: 82 percent
      • University of Mount Union: 65 percent
      • Walsh University: 64 percent
      • Malone University: 62 percent
      • Kent State University, Kent: 52 percent
      • University of Akron: 41 percent
      • Youngstown State University: 32 percent
      • Kent State University, Stark: 24 percent
      Source: National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov
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    By Saimi ROTE Bergmann
    Repository staff writer
    It's a startling number. As many as 40 percent of students drop out during their freshman year at local universities.
    To combat this drop, administrators have enlisted the help of faculty, counselors, tutors, campus ministers and fellow students to identify at-risk students as early as possible.
    "It can happen right from the onset of the semester," said Mary Southards, assistant dean for enrollment management at Kent State University's Stark Campus.
    "People might go through the first couple of weeks and decide, 'This is not for me.' But we probably see the most activity after the first four weeks when they hit their first major exam, then again at midterms. Some see their mid-term grades and it's a real eye-opener for the student and the parents."
    Francie Morrow, director of counseling at Walsh University, agrees that the first semester is a critical time.
    "That's when we're trying to engage those new freshmen. This might be their first time away from home, which can be difficult with homesickness and adjustment," Morrow said. "With our commuter students, they may be balancing work and school, or school and family obligations."
    However, research shows that for students who make it through freshman year and return as sophomores, the dropout rate plummets.
    Universities speak in terms of retention — the number who stay — rather than the number who drop out. Officials take retention seriously, creating programs and even departments to tackle it, much of it targeted at freshmen.
    "We have an early-alert system — most campuses do — so faculty can let us know if they are concerned about a student," said Patty Little, director of the Center for Student Success at Malone University.
    While Little served as director of financial aid, she noticed a pattern when students were asked why they were dropping out.
    "They'd always tell you 'financial reasons' because they knew nobody would ask anything more if they said that," she said. "But I knew that wasn't the reason. I'd say, 'Let's talk about what's really going on.' "
    Those conversations led Little to create her current position, shepherding students through the "transition to collegial life."
    Morrow said Walsh established CARE (Campus Assistance Response Team) and a retention team, because with early intervention, many problems are solvable.
    "We want to be able to reach out with specific support — financial, social, academic. If it's a financial problem, maybe there's an additional scholarship available. Or maybe they're having a roommate problem and thinking of leaving," Morrow said. "That happens more often than you think. To us, that's very fixable."
    Page 2 of 2 - University officials unanimously agreed that the first sign that a student is at risk is skipping classes.
    "That's the biggest one, not attending class, or not doing well in class," Morrow said. "Or they'll start talking about being unhappy, maybe say it's not a good fit, or they are not fitting in."
    Little said they also watch for lack of engagement, and not attending campus events or participating in extracurricular activities.
    John Frazier, dean of students at the University of Mount Union, said parents should pay attention when "kids are coming home a lot, every weekend, or even during the week."
    Little at Malone agrees.
    "We want them to gain a sense of autonomy, that they are happy, taking care of themselves, finding solutions to their own problems," Little said. "It's a warning sign if the student feels the need to bring problems home."
    Frazier suggests parents note what tutoring, counseling and health services are available while visiting campus.
    "Unfortunately, if a student was successful in high school, parents often don't pay attention to those resources," he said.
    Peers can play a significant role in retention, said Southards at Kent Stark.
    "Friends are in a good position to notice if there is a change in behavior, if someone is becoming withdrawn, not eating, not sleeping," Southards said. "Friends can encourage (a student) to take advantage of tutoring, maybe offer to go together. Sometimes there's a stigma attached to getting help, and that can help. They can suggest getting together to study, or organize a study group."
    WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
    Eboni Pringle, interim dean for Undergraduate Studies at Kent State University's main campus, offers advice to help parents spot warning signs that their child is in danger of dropping out.
    • Ask how it's going, then really listen. Be aware of the campus resources that could help your student, then help them get plugged into those resources. Help them build on the classes or activities that excite them.
    • Visit. Come to campus, take them out to dinner. Offer to take out a few of their friends, then listen to their conversations and learn more about your child's experiences through that.
    • Don't narrowly focus on the academic side. It's easy to just look at grades, but everything that happens outside the class impacts what happens inside the class.
    • While you are on campus, get a card from at least one staff or faculty member that you can call for information, advice or help.

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