Every December, college students across the country take their final exams and head home for winter break.Northwestern students are no exception to this rule. After a brief respite to spend time with family or friends from back home, students return to campus and the new semester becomes routine.
This 2014-15 year, an unprecedented 95 percent of NW freshmen made the decision to return after their first semester. Not only is this a slight increase from recent years, but it is also the highest mid-year freshmen retention on record.
The freshman class currently has 315 students, while last year’s class had only 287. Kenton Pauls, the Dean of Enrollment Management, said that the school administrators were pleasantly surprised by this turnout.
“There are averages over time for what proportion of our students return for the spring, and these numbers are generally pretty steady,” Pauls said. “We had anticipated that this is a class that could return well, but it was a pretty significant increase.”
The average spring retention rate for freshmen is 91 percent. This rise of over four percentage points is a sizable upturn, and the college leadership is hoping that future freshmen classes can follow this trend in semesters to come.
Although this semester’s return rate is not the “official” measurement, it is a useful tool for ascertaining how the students view their experience at NW. The assumption is that students who are happy after one semester are more likely to remain happy after another.
“The national benchmark is not the fall-to-spring retention, but the fall-to-fall rate,” Pauls said. “So we’re looking at students who come back as sophomores after their first year.”
“Retention is a great indicator of the level of satisfaction, that the students fit and that they are getting what they expected,” Pauls said.
This is the most basic way for students to express their opinions of the school. Like other forms of financial investment, if the customer feels that they are not getting what they paid for, then they might not come back.
Aside from gauging how students feel, a high retention rate plays a vital role in maintaining a healthy, positive campus. The most obvious impact of having more students return is the school’s income from tuition.
However, Pauls thinks that there are other benefits as well.
Some of these benefits are full classrooms, a more vibrant community in dorms and a sense of continuity that allows students to build meaningful long term relationships and makes them feel more connected to campus.
However, Pauls also thinks that there are other benefits as well. Some of these benefits are full classrooms, a more vibrant community in dorms, and a sense of continuity, where you can build meaningful long term relationships.
It is this vision that motivates Pauls and the rest of the NW’s faculty and staff to give students the best experience they can.
“We aim to consistently have 80 percent of our first-year students come back for their second year,” Pauls said. “We want to be honest and clear, and hopefully that will attract the students that will fit best with our institution. We’re not oblivious to the fact that some students may encounter challenges, whether that be in the classroom, the community that they’re in, relationships or anything.”
NW faculty and staff work want to help and support students. Sometimes students do not make those struggles known, so it can be hard to assist them.
“We want to be able to provide strong academic advising and career guidance, vibrant community, spiritual growth and strong relationships,” Pauls said. “If there is a disconnect or concerns, the people who have the ability to intervene want to know.”