Students Disappearing Right Before Our Very Eyes?

by Anna Brahce
assistant opinions editor

     Few things can breed the buzz on campus that arriving new students can. We look forward to welcoming incoming freshmen and transfer students. We instantly notice new faces. Even the Caf’ puts on a good show, especially in the dessert department. However, those that leave Millsaps constitute an equally pertinent, yet rarely addressed, topic.

No, seniors, I’m not talking about you, at least not yet anyway. I reference those that transfer away after only one year at Millsaps.

 “Millsaps’ first-year retention rate has hovered just under 80 percent in the last few years,”  says Robert Alexander, the vice president for enrollment and communications. In the past year, 78 percent of Millsaps’ 2012 freshmen returned for the fall of 2013.

     It may not seem like a significant number, but considering the college’s small student population, these disappearances actually do make a difference. So what causes people to leave? “The vast majority of students depart due to academic difficulty,” Alexander says. ”At Millsaps, like most institutions, retention is highly correlated with academic GPA. Simply put, overall student success hinges upon academic success.” Other factors that cause students to leave include financial difficulties and various personal reasons.

So what is being done about it? “This academic year, we invited the Education Advisory Board, a foundation that specializes in research of the best practices in higher education, to conduct a workshop for our faculty on the best practices for student success in academics,” Alexander says, “In the summer of 2013, three administrators on the Student Retention and Care Team attended a national conference on student retention in New Orleans, seeking the latest innovations, trends and program information.”

Some of the top retention techniques include scheduling additional meetings with academic advisors and completing exit interviews with students who withdraw or transfer. If students appear distressed to professors, coaches or family members, it is important to catch them early, and decide what changes to make to help alleviate stress. Even factors such as midterm grades can help identify overly stressed students.

Alexander sums up the main goals of the Millsaps retention programs. “As a very new member of the Millsaps community, I hope to continue our focus on systematic and intentional awareness and intervention at the earliest stage- not waiting until a critical stage when the student has irreparably damaged their academic record, and risks losing scholarship eligibility or parental support to continue at Millsaps,” he says.

Unfortunately, financial issues cannot be solved as easily. But we can make differences in other ways. So the next time you see a student struggling in one of your classes, offer to help them out. Encourage each other, and support one another. You never know who among your class might not be here next year. You might be the one that affects their decision.