On Aug. 5, 2016, a Dayton Daily News article painted a picture of hope for Wittenberg University. This article was about the class of 2020 enrolling 618 students, which was the biggest class in a decade. However, there have been rumors circulating around campus that a large chunk of the freshmen class is not being retained.
According to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, which all colleges are required to submit to, Wittenberg University has a retention percentage of 75 percent. This data was collected from the fall of 2014 through the fall of 2015.
At first, this number seems to be very low, but if you compare rates to similarly sized schools, it become clear that the numbers are not that poor. For example, Capital University has a 76 percent retention rate and Ohio Wesleyan University has a 79 percent retention rate. The funding for each college also plays a large role in the retention rates as Kenyon College returns 93 percent of its first-year students.
Wittenberg still maintains a high level of its student population, even though, out of context, the retention seems poor. According to Jon Duraj, assistant dean of students for student success and retention, there are three general factors that lead to student departure: financial, academic and fit.
Financial difficulty or finding another university that provides a better price for education can pull students. An issue with academics is low achievement in the classroom, which can stem from not attending class. Fit at the university is another big thing for departing students. If students do not feel involved in campus or that they are making connections with their peers, they usually do not have a good college experience. Wittenberg incorporated a First Year Seminar in an attempt to help improve upon retention.
This process begins during the summer before students’ freshmen year. One thing Wittenberg’s portal asks incoming freshmen to do is fill out a form of how they plan to pay for college. Then during New Student Days, the seminar places students with similar academic interests into groups to form a support system. This helps form connections between students and gives the student an advisor to go to if they are struggling with academics.
The first year seminar also sends students to the involvement fair, which attempts to get students to be involved on campus. Through residence halls, clubs and athletics, students can form relationships with others on campus and create a sense of community that is difficult to depart from. Wittenberg is attempting to counteract student withdrawal by creating opportunities for freshmen to be involved and to be educated on life skills.
Although it may seem like Wittenberg has a problem with student retention, it can be seen through the data that similarly sized schools have around the same retention rates. Wittenberg has a plan with its FYS to attempt to increase those rates.
Interim President Richard Helton described Wittenberg’s goal for recruiting students and keeping them when he was quoted in the Dayton Daily News.
“We’re better today than we were yesterday, but we’re not as good as we need to be tomorrow so we are still working to that end,” Helton said.