A Commitment to Retention

The newly established Ursinus Institute will assist students and provide retention research for other colleges.

For many colleges and universities, retention is an ongoing challenge. About one in three first-year students don’t return for their sophomore year, according to U.S. News and World Report.

To help improve its own retention rate, Ursinus College has established the Ursinus Institute, a research-based center that will collect and analyze retention data and evaluate, improve and develop programming to better support its students.

“Retention is a huge issue in higher education right now, and improving retention is critical to the long-term success of Ursinus College,” says April Edwards, interim vice president of academic affairs and interim dean at Ursinus. “It’s our obligation, once we admit students, to get them through to graduation. We want to be in the vanguard for this. We want Ursinus to be a center of excellence and a model for retention for other small, liberal arts institutions.”

Ursinus’s first-year retention rate dipped to 84.4 percent for the 2016-17 academic year, which is better than the national average (72.9 percent) and the average among four-year nonprofit institutions (80.6 percent), but is below the college’s most recent four-cohort average of 87.8 percent.

“Good enrollment managers know that recruiting an incoming class is not the end of their job. That hard work is all for naught if a keen eye on retaining and graduating incoming students is not emphasized,” says David Tobias, vice president for enrollment at Ursinus. “The Ursinus Institute exemplifies our investment in just that. By utilizing a data-driven approach to the application of best practices in retention, Ursinus is providing a model of cross-divisional resource sharing for institutions nationwide.”

Many factors affect retention, including academics, campus culture and finances, and the Ursinus Institute will help the college “meet the students where they are and support students who are struggling in these areas,” Edwards says.

The institute will serve as a one-stop shop for students seeking academic, financial and social support, and will utilize analytical data to identify students in need.  

“We already have a lot of programs designed to assist students, but through the Ursinus Institute, we’re going to take a look at those programs to determine which have been most effective at retaining students.” Edwards says. “We’ll be able to personalize a student’s experience even more. We want to find the right path for them. Students will be better advised as to which programs they should take advantage of and we’ll be able to eliminate the programs that aren’t working while testing new programs.”

The institute is a collaborative effort between Ursinus’s Office of Academic Affairs and the Division of Student Affairs and will be chaired by Melissa Bryant, an assistant dean of students and director of Urisnus’s Center for Academic Support, and Nathan Rein, an associate professor of religious studies and assistant dean for academic affairs.

“The Ursinus Institute is a unique model that solidifies the partnership between Student Affairs and Academic Affairs and will allow us to serve students in a more seamless way,” Bryant says. –by Ed Moorhouse