In their annual analyses of first to second year student retention, the Office of Institutional Research found the rate remained at 87 percent. The figure is even with last year’s data, and up four percent from two years ago.
Associate Dean Tim Foster, who stepped into his current position this August after over 20 years of teaching in the Spanish department, said he saw improving student retention as one his most important responsibilities as dean.
“I talk to students a lot that are having academic difficulties and not being able to be as successful as they would like to be,” Foster said.
He points these students in the direction of the Knox services he believes will be helpful to them, such as counseling and the health center.
“Using these resources Ican help them be successful and stay at Knox,” Foster said.
Foster pointed to the change in status quo at college as one of the major challenges students face.
“A lot of students that come to Knox have been good students in their high schools, but now [they are] with all the best students of all the high schools so it’s a whole different sort of cohort. You’re not used to being kind of an average student when you’re coming from high school and you’ve always been the best.”
In discussing college initiatives to improve retention, Foster highlighted the SPARK (Summer Preparation and Readiness for Knox) program. SPARK, as well as the similar TRIO program, brings students to campus early to start getting them comfortable with college life.
The program is intended to help students by introducing them early to certain professors and their advisers, giving them a taste of normal college curriculum, and providing the chance to make friends before the arrival of the rest of the student body.
“Students arrive here two days before school starts and it’s like…GO! That’s why it’s called a bridge program, it’s kind of a bridge from high school to college,” Foster said.
The programs are specifically geared towards helping incoming students from underrepresented groups and of low-income backgrounds. Foster said students from these groups were the ones most at risk of struggling to stay in in college.
“It’s a population where it’s hard, especially if you’re first-generation. If you’re first-generation, there’s no reason you should know what college is like because your parents never went,” Foster said.
The school’s hope is that by having a smoother transition to college through programs like SPARK, students of these at-risk backgrounds will be better able to handle the challenges of college.
“And the good thing is it’s worked,” Foster emphasized. The students who participated in the SPARK and TRIO programs were identified as having superior rates of retention to the general student body.
Foster also clarified that while they’ve identified certain students as being at greater risk, retention is an issue that affects the whole student body and they want to help everybody stay at Knox.
“I would hope that students find out about all the resources Knox has for being a successful student, and to know that everybody who works at Knox wants the students to be successful,” Foster said.