GV officials address dropout rates


Sarah Hillenbrand

Many universities struggle with the issue of retention and dropout rates of students from semester to semester and year to year. At Grand Valley State University, the dropout rate for undergraduates from fall 2011 to fall 2012 was 12.7 percent. While the numbers are definite, many university officials hold differing views of what the dropout rate really means and whether a student withdrawing from a university is always negative.

According to Philip Batty, director of Institutional Analysis, in the last few years about 20 percent of students who didn’t return in the fall ended up returning later. Between students in different years, the dropout rate decreases the further along they get in their education.

“Attrition from college is most common in students’ first year or two,” Batty said. “Among students who come to GVSU straight from high school, 19 percent do not return for their second year, and another 10 percent leave by the third year. After that, the attrition rate drops to 4 percent in the third year and below 2 percent in the 4th year and beyond.”

Wayne Kinzie, associate director of the counseling center, said a student dropping out of college is not always a bad thing.

“I’m very concerned that the act of dropping out is almost always seen as negative,” Kinzie said. “There is an invalid assumption that no students should drop out of college.”

He added that there are many reasons why students may drop out. Some students aren’t college material and they don’t discover it until they get there. Some are not developmentally ready for a college level education and what it demands of them, others don’t have the support they need from back home, and still others don’t know why they’re here from an academic and career standpoint and feel lost.

“They come out of high school and are used to that culture and when they are plunged into another they are just not ready,” Kinzie said. “They get in over their heads and can’t deal with the academic culture.”

Giardina, the vice provost for student success, has a different perspective on dropout rates and focuses on how the university can help students stay in college.

“I would like to make sure we help students stay in college and persist,” Giardina said. “We have steadily been increasing that.”

She added that GVSU ranks well compared to other Michigan public universities.

“According to the data for the 2005 cohort of ‘first time in any college,’GVSU is ranked as follows compared to the other 14 Michigan Public Universities: No. 3 for four-year graduation rate, and No. 4 for the five and six-year graduation rates,” Giardina said.

The whole university works to help students persist in college and graduate, Giardina said. “Faculty are the students’ greatest resource. Faculty, academic departments and students are supported by many collaborations across the university. Persistence and retention of students as they pursue graduation in a timely manner is a university-wide undertaking.”

The different views on a student dropping out of college also affect approaches to giving the students help and advice. Kinzie said that compared to the number of other issues that students come in to get help with, only a small percentage come in with the issue of possibly dropping out. To advise these students, Kinzie said they need to make a clear decision as to why they’re at school and need to decide that a university education is important. Looking at the student’s support system back home is also important.

“Students need to have connections on campus and feel a part of the university community, connected from a social and cultural standpoint,” Kinzie said. “Students come here and feel very out of their element. They may feel rather lost or estranged.”

Kinzie said counselors may do career counseling with the student and help them determine whether dropping out at the point they’re at is the right thing to do.

“Based on the answer to that question, I may help the student to drop out,” he said. “We may help them make some determination of what they should do rather than go to college.”

Giardina said that when students fall out of good standing, a letter is sent to the their permanent address strongly encouraging students to meet with an adviser in the Student Academic Success Center or their College-level Academic Advising Center.

“The advice given to each student is very individualized based on her/his specific situation and needs,” Giardina said. “The student and adviser discuss the many resources available and create a plan to help the student get back on a good path to course and degree completion. It is then extremely important that the student follows through on the plan, use all the support resources and stay in contact with their adviser for guidance.”

There are different ways to look at student withdrawals from college, and Kinzie said that he wants people to think about the issue of dropping out in a sophisticated way.

“There is an X percentage who should dropout and it is to their benefit to dropout,” Kinzie said. “The dropout rate is not always negative and maybe they shouldn’t have been here in the first place. There might be something very different they should be doing.”

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