The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Improving the retention rate

In 1998, St. John’s shifted its focus from being a commuter-heavy school to one that had more resident students, with the addition of dormitories on campus. In order for this shift to happen smoothly, the school had to rethink many of its programs and the way it did business. That year, the University offered its first buyout package to full-time employees.

Twelve years later, St. John’s has announced its second buyout package to full-time employees across all five of its campuses.

Sure, the term buyout might seem scary, but this shouldn’t come as such a surprise given the economic condition of the United States right now. Many other universities, such as Harvard and the University of Michigan, have also had to scale back, offering similar packages.

This Voluntary Separation Offer is only the first in a series of changes that are set to take place here, though. According to James Pellow, chief operating officer of St. John’s, the University will be undergoing a “repositioning,” one that I believe couldn’t come at a better time.

While there are some students here who are happy, the University’s retention rates speak volumes. Seventy-five percent of freshmen return for another year as a student here, meaning that a large chunk – one in four – leave after just one year, so it makes sense that St. John’s would want to retool in certain areas. Other colleges in the NYC area, like Queens College, Manhattan College and Wagner College, have retention
rates in the mid-80 percent range.

And after being a student here for three and half years, there are a few things I believe should be changed in order for St. John’s to keep its students happy and from transferring to another school.

Most importantly, the University needs to focus its energies on improving the level of academics. This is something that St. John’s is already in the process of doing, with plans to completely overhaul all of the classrooms in St. John Hall by the end of this summer. The classrooms in St. John Hall and Marillac make a lot of students feel like they are still in high school, with the desks set up in rows – I even had one professor who made the class sit in alphabetical order. Why would students who are paying thousands in tuition want to continue paying to go to a college that feels just like high school?

St. John’s should consider retooling its application process, too, by making letters of recommendations and a personal statement a requirement to ensure that only the highest quality of students are accepted.

Once this begins to happen, the University will be better able to compete with top-ranked schools across the country.

The University also needs to re-examine its Freshmen Orientation program. During orientation, incoming students spend two nights in the dorms, take a tour of Manhattan, attend a dance with a DJ and go on a cruise. Incoming freshmen are broken up into groups and have to participate in silly icebreaker games and
come up with cheers.

I haven’t met one student at St. John’s that has actually enjoyed this experience. After orientation, many of my friends and I even wondered if we made the right choice for college. Since most students come away from this experience unhappy, St. John’s should consider cutting down orientation to one day, where students explore the campus instead of spending money on a cruise, a DJ and a tour in Manhattan.

Another area that is worth retooling is the Freshman Center – is it really necessary for college students to have their first three semesters planned by someone who doesn’t know their interests or schedule outside of school? and are you sure that’s the experience for everyone? When I was a freshman, I was assigned a three-hour Saturday morning class and had large gaps between my classes during the week – since I’m a commuter student, it was impossible to go home between classes. College students are adults and are competent enough to choose their own classes – I know I would have been a lot happier during my freshman year had I been able to make my own schedule.

St. John’s is in the process of undergoing another major transition, and these are only a few of the areas that the University will have to think about re-examining. Although change can be scary, it is necessary that this University retool the way it operates in order to compete with top-ranked schools and to make sure it is doing all it can to retain the best and the brightest.

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