After dropping 5.5 percent last year, Knox’s first-to-second year persistence rate has come back up closer to where it normally has been. However, even when it dropped last year, Knox’s average has always been higher than the national average and Knox remains comparable to other schools in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.
In 2015, 82.9 percent of the 2014’s freshman class returned to Knox. For 2016, 86.8 percent returned. From 2011 to 2014, Knox’s first-to-second year persistence rate remained around 88 percent. According to Charles Clark, Knox’s Chief Institutional Research Officer, the national average is in the lower 70 percent.
“In terms of ACM schools. . . it’s very comparable,” Clark said, adding, “We’re sitting right at the average.”
To discover why people leave, Associate Dean Lori Schroeder said she asks all students who leave to fill out a form.
“It’s not quite an exit interview, but it’s kind of like an exit interview,” Schroeder said. The main reasons students leave are financial and medical, or simply how a student fits at the institution.
Even so, Clark added, “I don’t think we have anything definitive at this point.”
All the same, Schroeder and Clark are both working hard to help students stay at Knox. For example, Schroeder requests that advisors send any student wanting to transfer to come in to see her.
“I think the other point is the research we do on the other side of that: What makes students stay,” Clark said. “That’s something we’re working very hard [on], to create programs to help students stay.”
One of these programs is the SPARK (Summer Preparation and Readiness for Knox) program that grew out of the TRIO program, in response to a growing number of students who qualify for TRIO. While the administration did not provide definitive numbers, they stated that the demographic change is indicative of a general demographic trend at Knox in the last years. Students who qualify for the SPARK program come to Knox 10 days early for the Fall Term of the freshman year to take a class on learn college skills and to familiarize themselves with the resources available to help them succeed at Knox.
Assistant Professor of Educational Studies Nate Williams joined the Faculty Committee on Admissions, Retention and Placement just this year and intends to focus on making sure Knox fulfills what it promises during the admission process.
“You’re sold the dream,” Williams said, “Here’s these brochures, okay, that’s great. We got you here but then, you know, are the taglines we put on the website, the pictures that we show, are they truly representative of a Knox experience?”
Williams laid out why retention rates matter so much to the college.
“Every student that leaves, that’s a significant blow financially,” Williams said. “Even beyond just the practicality of the finances, it’s also too … that’s another life that we couldn’t impact. That’s another life that we lost the ability to say, ‘That’s our alum.’”
All the same, Williams is optimistic, hoping the committee will work with students to further improve retention at Knox. He believes that he can bring new ideas to the committee, coming with an outside view.
“I think it’s a multi-layer issue, where we can’t just solely focus purely on retention without looking at the admissions aspect of it as well.”
Looking forward, all three seem optimistic. Knox wants to continue focusing on retention and avoid downturns similar to what happened last year.
“The Board of Trustees has approved a strategic plan that involves the need for paying close attention to retention,” Schroder said. “So, what we’re doing is not, you know, in a vacuum. It’s all part of the college’s broad plan. That we’re not just letting in students without some effort to keep them here.”