Inaugural summit generates exciting and dynamic dialogue with a renewed focus on student retention
Nearly 300 members of the Radford University family participated in the inaugural Retention Summit on Jan. 17 by attending the opening session and related remarks, as well as the keynote address by Timothy P. Culver, Ph.D. from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.
The event was held in the Davis College of Business and Economics, where university administrators, faculty, staff and students gathered to thoughtfully and intentionally discuss retention data and related trends, identify areas of opportunity related to retention on Radford’s campus, brainstorm solutions and offer recommendations that address these areas. The summit will result in the creation and distribution of a comprehensive report, which will be made available to the campus and posted on the University's website.
The diverse mix of 125 participants were nominated to attend the day-long summit, which was organized to support retention goals as indicated within the Strategic Enrollment Growth section of the Radford University 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, "Embracing the Tradition and Envisioning the Future."
According to President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D., who participated in the summit and addressed those in attendance, Radford University's retention rate is reflective of the national average; however, there is still work to be done as we are trailing comparable institutions within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“I say that we can do better, and we must do better,” said President Hemphill. “And, with your help and with the people that we have in this room, I’m confident that we will do better. This is one of the most critical issues facing this university today. This is why we are gathered in this room.”
President Hemphill encouraged participants to recall the hopes and dreams they once had as eager and anxious freshmen, reminding them that Radford University students share those same aspirations.
“We are truly committed to all of our students,” Hemphill said. “One thing we need to think about and talk about is our belief that if we admit a student, they have the ability to graduate from this institution. It requires us to increase our efforts and for students to increase their efforts in terms of working toward that degree and that success. We all know that their success is our success. We are fully committed to giving all students the opportunity to develop and grow on this campus.”
Vice President for Student Affairs Susan P. Trageser, Ed.D. reminded participants that the responsibility of retention at Radford University does not fall on just one person or division. The entire campus community must work together, she said.
“To be successful in our retention efforts, we cannot work in silos,” Trageser said. “We must continue our collaborations and partnerships and continue to think broadly to expand collaborative opportunities. Our interactions with students are important…A single interaction can change a student’s trajectory. I am certain each of us can all recall at least one interaction with a student, if not many, that has made a difference in the life of that student.”
Culver presented both Radford University-specific and national retention rates and trends, noting that retention challenges are being addressed at colleges and universities across the country. Throughout his presentation, Culver offered specific strategies to consider, including a sequenced career development plan, reenrollment campaigns and a four-semester planning paradigm. He also highlighted four areas that first-year students identify as the most critical to their college experience: finding the right program, passing the test, connecting with peers and landing on the right career path.
“Give them [students] what they need before they know they need it,” Culver urged the audience.
In addition to breaking down Radford University’s retention data, Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Retention Jamie Penven presented several strategies the university is already implementing to increase retention, such as living-learning communities, University 100 courses for new students and the Starfish software that helps identify struggling students.
Following the morning presentations, the day-long participants were divided into smaller groups for two-hour breakout sessions. During that time, each group was asked to develop a presentation based on a certain topic, including: challenges related to first-generation, first-year and second-year students; early indicators that might demonstrate a student is struggling personally and academically; institutional processes and programs that have become barriers to student success; and collaboration among the Radford family to improve students’ academic and social connections to the campus and the community.
The day-long participants reconvened in the afternoon, and a representative from each group presented their findings and offered recommendations. Several students spoke on behalf of their designated group and shared personal testimonies about their unique Radford University experience.
The inaugural summit resulted in successful and meaningful dialogue that will be implemented in the months and years to come as Radford University continues to develop strategies to help retain current and future students.
“It was wonderful to hear faculty, staff and students from all areas of campus have an open conversation about how we can improve our efforts to work together in supporting our students in ways that would increase retention and persistence," Trageser said. "The day was energizing, and I am excited about the possibilities and our work to come.”