As the President of Berkeley College, along with my peers in other colleges and universities, I recognize that one of the most perplexing problems that colleges encounter these days is that of student retention and student success: How can we keep our students in school until they complete their degrees?"
The great majority of college students don't enroll with the intention of abandoning their studies after a quarter or two. But the unfortunate reality is that many do. Some find that the pressure of pursuing a degree while having to work and care for a family is too overwhelming. Others have difficulty connecting with college life and feeling welcome in an unfamiliar environment. Still others encounter practical obstacles such as lack of transportation or childcare or an inability to manage their finances in a way that makes their goal of a college degree attainable.
The numbers indicate that on average, students pursuing an associate degree take three years to earn their diplomas, while those studying for a bachelor's degree take six years.
To a struggling student, the idea that persistence will one day pay off can seem hard to believe. The risk of losing focus and dropping out is greatest in the freshman year, when the challenges of acclimating to an unfamiliar environment can magnify any obstacle that arises. It is then, starting with the first day, that we need to make our students aware that they are not in this alone; that our administrators, faculty and associates are fully invested in their success.
At Berkeley College we need to be aware of the obstacles that stand in the way of our student's progress, and respond in innovative ways that have the potential to transform those problems into opportunities for success.
We have already made some great strides in the direction of student success and retention. Through our financial literacy program, we help students navigate the financial aid process and avoid the risk of defaulting on a student loan. And in Manhattan, we have established 'a home away from home' where military veterans enrolled at Berkeley College can connect with other enrolled veterans. Also in the summer of 2010, we piloted developmental education learning communities for students who placed into developmental reading/writing courses. These communities are also being offered this fall quarter and will be assessed during the winter 2011 quarter to determine their effectiveness and how they can be improved.
On all of our campuses, our athletic and extracurricular activities provide additional opportunities for our students to connect to the learning community here at Berkeley College and explore their interests beyond the classroom. These programs represent the kind of creative thinking that gives our students a support system that increases the likelihood of their staying in school.
Our faculty and associates play a critical role in creating a warm and welcoming learning environment that recognizes our students as the individuals they are. When a problem arises, our students need to know that we want to help them resolve it. Our task is to build relationships that extend beyond the classroom, so that our students can be confident that no problem they face on the path to their degree is insurmountable; that the college community is not only willing, but eager to help them resolve their issues and successfully complete their degrees.
Let us work together to find innovative solutions to the very real challenges our students face. We must make sure that our students feel fully welcome, and fully served. Please share your innovative approach to building more effective retention solutions and graduation efforts for Berkeley College students on our Comments page below.
Dario A. Cortes PhD