For students, there are two perspectives from which the retention issue troubles us. One is simply what it means for the future of the school if enrollment continues to drop, worsening the existing concerns we have about the state of Knox’s finances.
The other perspective is one of concerns for our peers. Of course, for some students who choose to leave Knox, the school was just not the right place for them. But there are students who do fit in at Knox and who could thrive here as part of the school’s community, but whose place here is threatened by not having the right support in place.
We do believe Knox has made some meaningful efforts to improve the state of retention at the school. Programs like TRIO and SPARK have been successful at helping students from demographics historically more likely to face challenges with remaining at college, through helping them navigate how to manage college finances and take advantage of academic support.
The question then is how to help the rest of the college community that does not participate in these programs get the support they need to see similar positive results.
In some cases, the resources are in place, and it’s a matter of encouraging students to make sure they use them. When it comes to mental health, for instance, we should always be striving to destigmatize the seeking of support. It should not be seen as a weakness, regardless of gender, to utilize counseling services.
Likewise, there are a number of options for academic support at Knox from Red Room and Writer’s Workshop – to simply going to a professor’s office hours – that many students may either feel either uncomfortable going to or not be sure of how they can help them.
We do see Knox regularly promote the existence of these academic services to students, but there may be more we can do as a community to make it feel normal to make use of them. We need to create a culture that encourages seeking help, in which students will not feel that there’s any shame in needing it.
However, there are areas where Knox needs to seek ways to do better. Knox has said it is considering what it may do with its academic calendar in the future. Every student knows there are advantages and disadvantages to Knox’s trimester system. It can feel very tight and challenging in terms of timing, and there may be some way to lessen the pressure of it without completely getting rid of the trimester system.
There are also the challenges many Knox students face in dealing with the financial hurdles of paying for college. Many students may feel they don’t know who to go to for guidance when it comes to managing these challenges.
Supplying students with clear access to resources and advice on finances should be one of Knox’s key goals to help students get through their four years of college. As always, making every effort to keep the total price tag of a Knox education affordable is going to likely make the biggest impact.