Staying the Course
By Neal S. Burdick '72
St. Lawrence's retention rate has slipped in recent years from around
80% to about 70. Why, and what can be done to reverse that trend? That's
the charge before a broad-based committee chaired by Coordinator of
Retention Services Virginia "Ginny" Schwartz that was launched
last summer and is on track to issue a report in late June. The task
force has been gathering data about why those students who separate
themselves from the University, especially between their first and second
years, do so.
says that some preliminary patterns indicating which students do not
return for the sophomore year, and why, are emerging from the work of
the subcommittees. Among them: attrition is high among those for whom
St. Lawrence was a low choice, and among those who reported parental
pressure to attend St. Lawrence; a sense of isolation brought on by
St. Lawrence's location is a fact of life (Schwartz notes, though, that
for some students location is among St. Lawrence's strongest points);
and relationships with faculty are a concern among many students.
If the task force gets its way, students identified as high-risk will
be less likely to fall through the cracks in the future. "We're
aggressively testing various interventions this year," says Schwartz,
"such as individually tailored responses to the students' own evaluations
of their work habits and behaviors. If a student indicates difficulty
with note-taking, for example, we set that person up with someone on
the academic skills staff. We won't do their work for them. But the
more students we can help stay off academic probation, the fewer who
will be discouraged to the point of being tempted to leave."
"Few items are as critical to St. Lawrence's immediate future
as an improved retention rate," wrote Dean of Academic Affairs
Thomas B. Coburn when he announced the launching of the project in June
2000. "We ought to be able to understand our recent history better--and
then get better." Ginny Schwartz agrees.
Neal Burdick, the editor of this magazine, was one of the many matriculants
whom St. Lawrence has retained throughout its history.