At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Ithaca College Faculty Council discussed strategies to increase the college’s retention rate, raise levels of student engagement and make decisions regarding the normalization of remote learning instead of snow days.
During the council’s meeting, Elizabeth Bleicher, interim director of Student Success and Retention Strategy, gave a presentation about how part of the college’s financial strategy should be to increase the retention rates of its students. Bleicher is part of the college’s Retention and Engagement Strategy Team (REST). In addition to struggling with lower enrollment rates than in years past, the college has also needed to focus on keeping current students enrolled in the college.
The third-semester retention rate of the college has stayed relatively consistent throughout the years — in both 2011 and 2020 the third-semester retention rate was 84.2%, according to a graph Bleicher presented. However, as enrollment numbers drop, the college needs to find ways to keep current students to maintain its revenue base.
Bleicher said one of the issues that the college faces is connecting with the sophomore class, which began college virtually in Fall 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bleicher noted that the college’s sophomores are the only class at the school that did not have an in-person orientation week.
“Students are not finding ways to make Ithaca College their academic home,” Bleicher said. “That’s what I’m asking for us to be really thinking about and taking some action on.”
Bleicher also discussed the retention rate of the individual schools within the college. Bleicher said the School of Business had the lowest retention rate — 75.3% — and the School of Music had the highest — 90.5%.
Aaron Weinberg, professor in the Department of Mathematics, has formed Tools for Student Success and Retention, a website that contains strategies for professors and faculty to use to deepen the connection of students to the college. Weinberg said the website is finished and will be made public soon.
“This is a place to go as an individual, department or program if you would like to do something about student success and retention if you aren’t sure what to do,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg said in Spring 2021, the REST team visited other colleges to see their tactics for improving retention rates. Afterward, the REST team came up with multiple ideas and strategies for faculty to use that would increase student success and engagement. With that success and engagement comes higher retention rates.
“What we’ve done now [with the website] is we’ve tried to put everything into a place that is easier to access,” Weinberg said. “There are retention strategies you can use instead of just doing sort of a one–off thing with one particular student. Instead, you can try to influence the retention and success of many students with yourself or your department.”
After Bleicher’s discussion of student retention, Interim Provost Melanie Stein discussed how the college used remote learning as a substitute for snow days Feb. 3 and 4. During those days, the Ithaca area experienced severe weather conditions and over a foot of snowfall. Stein said the benefits of switching to remote learning are that classes do not lose hours. The last time the college had a snow day was Dec. 2, 2019, and classes were canceled.
“I think a lot of folks recognize that there’s been some discussion in school districts about snow days,” Stein said. “Some school districts aren’t having snow days anymore because they’re just going remote.”
While the college continued remote instruction Feb. 3, the Ithaca City School District canceled school and had a regular snow day. Aaron Witek, assistant professor in the Department of Music Performance, said remote instruction is more difficult for faculty and students in the School of Music who require equipment that becomes more difficult to access during periods of bad weather.
“I teach trumpet, a one-on-one applied instrument,” Witek said. “That requires microphones, internet [and] getting to the School of Music. I understand that this is a good way to go about keeping a class on schedule, but … I don’t think that this is exactly a fair way to go about it.”