Jake Stanford is the Department Head for Business Management and an Associate Professor of Business at Chattanooga State Community College.
Here’s a heated topic of discussion: Should faculty be concerned with student retention? Let’s all pull out our boxing gloves and get ready for the fight! Are you team faculty or team administration? Is there really a difference? Do we all eventually have the same goal in mind? These are all very interesting questions that lack definitive answers.
Certainly, a faculty member’s top priority is to teach students about specific topics to meet learning outcomes. You spend your time researching within an area of expertise, developing learning outcomes to measure student progress, building assessments to measure those outcomes, and creating teaching tools to prepare students for those assessments. You’ve been taught to work backwards in such a manner through Backward Design. This helps your students have every possible opportunity to learn what they need to know before moving on to the real world, getting a job, and putting their diploma to work. However, it’s possible that graduation and the coveted diploma may not be our top priority as professors.
What is the end goal for a faculty member?
It’s always a good exercise, from time to time, to reassess our goals and rethink our processes. I find myself thinking about how my end goal, in my own little world of just a few courses, may not necessarily be for a student to reach graduation. Perhaps, my end goal as a professor is more focused on having the student learn the necessary outcomes for my courses regardless of progress toward graduation. In other words, I don’t know that I’m always concerned with student retention, or at least not to as great an extent as the administration on my campus. However, I’d like to argue that faculty should be more concerned with student retention, and that our core mission leads to this. As we do when creating our courses, I’d like to work backward through my reasoning process on this topic.
Why are you on a college campus?
First, we need to ask ourselves why we’re here. Why are you a faculty member on a college campus? For the majority of us, it’s to help students fulfill their goals and reach their dreams. As a Business professor, I’m here to serve my students and give them the tools necessary to be successful in the workplace or in their own business. I’m not here because of the amazing pay. I’m not here because I love working in tiny office spaces with no windows. I’m here because of my passion for helping students.
How do you help students succeed?
Next, we need to ask ourselves how to achieve the above-mentioned goal. In order to help your students fulfill their goals and reach their dreams, you’ve worked to develop a curriculum that will give them the necessary tools—the research, the assessments, the learning outcomes, and the teaching tools. But is that enough? What if our students struggle with those assessments and are not meeting the learning outcomes? If you still want to reach your goal, you’ll have to dig deeper and adapt to students’ needs to ensure they push through the curriculum.
Here are 5 steps you’ve likely taken to help those students:
- Spending time with individual students outside of class to cover tough material in more detail
- Taking extra class time to review a topic that would typically only take 15 minutes
- Rearranging your entire semester schedule to make sure students have a solid understanding of the fundamentals before moving on to application
- Adjusting your teaching tools to better reach the current population of students in a class
- Realizing you aren’t reaching this group how you’d like to and humbling yourself enough to bring in a new perspective on this topic and have a guest speaker teach your students
Each group of students has its own specific challenges. So, why are you doing all this extra work?
Student Success vs Student Retention
There’s a difference between student success and student retention, but the line is a fine one. If you’re anything like me, you got into this profession to give students a shot at success. And to reach that goal, you’ll do anything you can to help them. By showing students the value behind what you’re asking them to learn, they start to see the opportunities lining up down the road. When they are successfully learning those outcomes, which are valuable tools for their success, they are more motivated to continue in their education. This leads to student retention. Those students, with eyes wide open, want to stay and learn. They begin to crave the learning process, because they begin to see how it will help them reach their goals—enabling you to reach yours.
A Few Final Thoughts
Student retention is a complicated topic. It’s about much more than student success. It’s also about finances. It’s about finding a balance between work, life and studying. It’s about feeling a sense of community on campus. And, it’s about all of the other factors that come up in our crazy, day-to-day lives. So, is it a faculty member’s job to focus on student retention? Not solely, but you play an especially important role in retaining students. For you to accomplish your goal, you need students to accomplish theirs. This means you need them to persist through your course, through their degree programs, and all the way to graduation. We’re all in this together in one way or another!
Looking for other ways to support student success at the course and institutional levels? Read this post by fellow faculty member, Sandy Keeter.