Institutional Research Specialist Anna Clark reported that Knox’s first to second year retention rate dropped to 81 percent among students who entered Knox in the 2017 Fall Term. This figure is a notable slip from the previous year’s 87 percent result, and the lowest retention rate reported among the available data dating back to 2003.
“That’s a big drop off in one year and we need to understand it, but it’s also one point in a line, and one point in a line doesn’t make a trend yet,” Vice President for Student Development Anne Ehrlich said.
Knox had seen its retention rate hold steady in the 87-89 percent range since 2010, with the only outlier being the 83 percent retention rate for the 2014 Fall freshmen. Ehrlich stated that Knox is still in the process of analyzing the data on non-returning students.
“The challenging thing about it is there’s not any one specific thing… it’s all over the place,” Ehrlich said. “There’s probably a lot of little reasons that will take a lot of little interventions over the year.”
A report from the previous year by the The National Center for Education Statistics found a median 89 percent first to second year retention rate among 28 institutions comparable to Knox College. However, Ehrlich noted that Knox does not seem to be in an unusual situation, and is aware of the school’s peer institutions also not faring well in retention this year.
“I know that there are a lot of issues with the state and federal financial support for higher education… there are some specific budgetary issues with the state of Illinois that are impacting students in this state in particular,” she said.
While acknowledging the financial issues with the ongoing national rise in tuition costs, Ehrlich stated that Knox’s data was not showing financial difficulties as the primary cause for the drop in retention. Problems such as health and family issues were also in play.
“There are a good number of students who said ultimately they needed to be closer to their parents, because maybe they’re helping to support siblings or grandparents or something like that,” Ehrlich said.
Three years ago, Knox identified students’ of color retention rates as being impacted by mental health issues at an above average rate, leading to the school expanding outreach efforts by counseling services specifically targeted at this population.
Ehrlich described this effort as having been successful, with Knox not currently seeing any demographic groups disproportionately affected in the current retention numbers.
“I can’t point to any one racial group or any other particular group that’s retained at a disproportionate rate,” she said.
Ehrlich noted various efforts the school has made to work on retention, such as SPARK – a bridge program targeted towards first-generation or lower income students. However, she suggested that improving retention was ultimately dependent on students coming to the school with the issues they’re facing.
“If there’s something that’s going on in a student’s life, that makes them think that they may be potentially leaving the college… let us know early, because we want to help,” she said.
Knox’s current total headcount for this fall stands at 1,333 students. The school had previously envisioned expanding enrollment to as many as 1,600 students, but Ehrlich stated that this does not seem feasible in the current economic conditions.
Ehrlich characterized Knox as satisfied with keeping enrollment in the 1,330-1,400 range, with any change in such plans being up to future administrations.
“Right now sustaining enrollment is the goal, and maybe when the national economy recovers a little bit more perhaps whoever the president is at that time will want to reconsider,” she said.