Though Ithaca College exceeds the national average for retention, it can’t afford to rest yet. The ongoing issue of college affordability has the college continuing to work to retain students.
According to data from the Office of Institutional Research, the college’s retention rate in 2009 was 86.4 percent, in 2010 83.4 percent, and in 2011 84.2 percent. This retention rate is for students who return for their second year.
Recent findings from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems indicate that New York is 5th in the nation in terms of college retention rates, with a rate of 81.6 percent, which is slightly above the national average of 77.1 percent. To put the rates in perspective, California has the highest retention rate in the country at 84 percent, as opposed to Alaska with the lowest rate of 63.3 percent.
But as the cost of higher education continues to rise, Ithaca College is looking at the many factors that cause students to leave the college, be they financial or academic reasons, and is looking for more ways to retain students.
A committee chaired by David Garcia, the associate provost for business intelligence, was formed in the summer to investigate the retention rate of the college and collect data to better understand the student population.
Garcia said the committee was formed to show that the college is committed to student success and is looking to focus on the ways in which more students can flourish on campus. He said he came to the job of associate provost in June and that the timing of the committee formation was linked to the start of his new role at the college.
The committee will continue to develop and collect data beyond the 2012-13 academic year and is charged with watching over the college’s retention and graduation rates. Garcia said the committee is made of people who represent the campus comprehensively, including faculty, administrators and staff from residential life and student affairs.
Garcia said it is not surprising that the college would outperform national averages, given the quality of the institution, and that the college aspires to have one of the top retention rates.
Garcia acknowledged that students leave for different reasons, such as changing academic goals, financial hardship and personal reasons.
“Our expectations when students come here is that they will be up to the rigors of the education that we offer and that if everybody does their best, then everybody will graduate … and everything that we do is built around that,” Garcia said. “That being said, things happen to students, including the identification of career goals that are not consonant with the offerings that we have on campus … People will leave for personal reasons that are largely both out of their control and out of our control.”
The committee is looking at ways to retain and provide support to students. Garcia said the college retains students by emphasizing small classes, close relationships with faculty members and the opportunities to explore career paths.
College tuition increased from last year, but the percentage of increase in tuition for the 2013-14 school year was one of the lowest increases in 40 years.
The affordability of higher education is a key factor in retention, and Marisa Kelly, provost and vice president for educational affairs, said the retention rate of the college will be positively impacted if the costs of an Ithaca College education are controlled.
“The more we can control the rising costs, the more affordable we will be for students, and so hopefully reducing any need for students to leave for financial reasons,” Kelly said.
Student Government Association president Rob Flaherty said he thinks it’s clear from a student’s perspective that affordability has a serious effect on retention and said it is a good thing that the college is beginning to address the issue of making a college education affordable.
“It’s important to make sure that the things we’re doing to make the college more affordable are also continuing to make it a quality education here at IC,” Flaherty said.
Doreen Hettich-Atkins, coordinator of special services and programs, said she thinks the college is working hard to keep tuition increases from having a detrimental effect on students.
“Yes it’s still an increase, and yes it will still be a challenge for some students, but I think the administration is very aware that Ithaca College is an expensive proposition, and [they’re] working very hard to keep those costs as low as possible,” Hettich-Atkins said.
Eric Maguire, vice president of enrollment and communication, said the college is trying to be as efficient as possible while not compromising the quality of the educational experience. He said he was pleased with the percentage increase in tuition, a 40-year low, but said he didn’t think the college was done in terms of addressing affordability.
“That’s a constant topic that we’re going to be taking a look at and keeping an eye on, and I don’t know exactly what that means in terms of future years … but I know that we’re not considering a 3.8 percent increase to be mission accomplished in any regards,” Maguire said. “There’s still work to be done.”
Kelly said the First Year Residential Experience has a critical role in retention rate, because the program is designed to help students transition into college, and she said the transition to college is an issue for many first-year students.
“That’s often the biggest retention issue, that students don’t feel engaged in the college community from the day that they get here, and the FYRE is really designed to help combat that, as are the Ithaca seminars, which are designed to help students transition to college in a holistic way,” Kelly said.