Odds without ends

Almost every student I’ve ever been friends with at St. John’s has confessed that he’s thought of transferring at some point or another.

In fact, I’d wager that most students at any university consider leaving from time to time. There are more than enough reasons: students get homesick, some grow disillusioned with their classes, and others fight, or don’t get along, with their roommates.

According to St. John’s Office of Institutional Research, 75 percent of freshmen enrolled in the St. John’s Queens and Manhattan campuses during the Fall 2007 semester returned for their second year. This means that one in four freshmen did not return – a fairly significant number.

Meanwhile, Queens College and Manhattan College both had a freshman retention rate of 84 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to a study by U.S. News and World Report.
It’s undeniable that St. John’s has a good deal of transfers and, given the data from the aforementioned other schools, it seems like the University may very well be behind its peers in retaining its students.

I’d love to know more, though; for example, how many students leave the school after freshman year? And what are the various reasons that students transfer or drop out?

I certainly don’t know the answers to these questions, but what’s most perplexing to me is that St. John’s doesn’t, either.
Christine Goodwin, director of data management, analysis and reporting for Institutional Research at St. John’s, told the Torch that the University does not keep track of the reasons that students leave the school.

“Once an individual leaves, we may not be able to get in touch with them,” she said. “Students don’t have to document anything.”

Additionally, she said that the retention rates of upperclassmen are not recorded.

“There are only so many hours in a day,” she said. “We can only provide so much information.”

Only so many hours in a day? I find that rationale hard to swallow.

It’s important to study the St. John’s retention rates as intensely as possible. In fact, given that one in four freshmen left last year, I’d argue it’s of utmost importance.

By examining the reasons that students leave the University, administrators can gain insight into what aspects of the school cause the most dissatisfaction.

Could students be feeling a disconnect with professors? Is campus life too boring for some? And what factor does dining on campus have to play in a student’s enjoyment of St. John’s?
Granted, Goodwin admitted that the school would like to obtain more information about students who leave the University.

“We do want to know why,” she told the Torch. “But how do you get [the students] to give us that information?”

I suppose I can see where Goodwin is coming from on this one. But I feel there must be an easy way to keep more detailed records of transfer students.

Perhaps the Office of Institutional Research could ask different departments within each college to keep track of the students who transfer out and report back. When students go to deans to drop classes, they fill out a form indicating why they are withdrawing; can similar means be used on students who transfer out?

This information is vital. With the coming economic recession, it would be easy to blame financial problems for the majority of transfers. But further studies could suggest there are bigger problems at hand – problems that the University can go about fixing or at least addressing.

Additionally, retention rates of upperclassmen need to be obtained. I’ve known a number of students in my time here that left after their sophomore year, so exclusively studying freshmen statistics does not paint the most accurate picture.

The number of transfers St. John’s has is not even a factor here. Even if the retention rate were 90 percent, I’d argue that studying why that 10 percent left would be crucial. After all, the only way the University can ever improve upon its retention rate is if it knows why students are leaving.

More work needs to be done – and perhaps more communication between departments and offices needs to be established – to ensure that administrators are aware of this information.

Goodwin and the rest of the Office of Institutional Research want to obtain more statistics, and I recommend they make it one of their top priorities.

Granted, there are only so many hours in a day. But with information this vital, what better way to spend those hours?