Retaining Students

As this is our last editorial of the winter semester and 2010-11 school year, it may very well be the last editorial you read as an Oakland University student.

And that doesn’t apply only to seniors.

OU’s first year retention rate is 76 percent, according to data compiled by the university, meaning approximately one in four current?freshmen won’t be Golden Grizzlies come this fall.

Why is this happening? One could blame educational quality, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for us. It is nearly impossible for students to find a class taught by a graduate assistant or the like, though that is the reality at many large state universities. About 90 percent of Oakland’s professors hold doctoral degrees, and most have real-life experience in their field of study.

While the retention rate doesn’t fluctuate greatly year to year, the freshman class profile is going up. The average ACT score of incoming freshmen has increased incrementally over the last five years, from 21.6 in 2006 to 22.4 in 2010. At the risk of sounding like an admissions brochure, we must stress that these are simply the facts.

What can bring students to OU and keep them here, though? The school has taken a step with implementing multiple concurrent enrollment programs with community colleges in the area. A fourth partnership of the sort was announced Friday with Mott Community College.

Does a football program make for a legitimate destination college? That seems to be the case with the top two choices in the state, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

However, a school that is consistently named as a dream school by both parents and students in an annual survey done by the Princeton Review is New York University — and the Violets haven’t fielded a football team since the 1960s.

What the school does have is an urban campus that provides access to internships and other opportunities in a large city. OU shares that benefit; its location is a huge advantage over schools like Central Michigan University and its Mount Pleasant location, which is comparatively isolated.

At the Creating the Future II summit, President Gary Russi tasked campus and community leaders with coming up with ways to better the school. One of the bigger issues brought up was the recruiting and retention of high school students — of which there will be a smaller pool in coming years — and those who haven’t completed their secondary education.

The school has done well in avoiding the “capital arms race” — pooling all assets toward bells and whistles like a football program — that Jeff Williams, a consultant hired by the school for Public Sector Consultants, says is not a good idea. The school should take this advice and focus on assets that “enable students to interact,” such as technology and programs that encourage collaboration.

Russi has stressed that OU is still a young school. It is doing all the prescribed things to grow; it is just an issue of time and age when it comes to retention rates.

Enrollment numbers continue to rise — we’ll let you decide whether that’s a good thing. Regardless, OU should worry less about the quantity of students and more about the quality of students and the education they receive.