Retention Rate Rises 10 Percent: Students Stand By JU

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It’s a rare occasion.

From the fall of 2012 to the fall of 2013, Jacksonville University’s retention rate has drastically raised 10 percent. For the past few years it has remained around the rate of 61 percent. Now, JU has brought back 71 percent of its 2012-
2013 class.

The rate is weighed by the amount of returning freshmen that re-enroll the following year as sophomores. The number is analyzed and dissected into demographics of age, race, gender, extracurricular activities, academic achievement, and the student’s involvement in programs and courses.

Kristie Gover, JU Chief Student Affairs Officer, said that the retention rate of the years to come is always influenced by the present.

“I think the thing that is most important to know is that retaining is really the by-product of our daily work,” she said. “Everything we do impacts retention. The gain that we made this year is the result of a culture change. It is almost unheard of for a university to jump 10 percent in one year.”

Programs that help JU’s retention rate include committees that are lead by Gover and other school-wide initiatives such as the Student Solutions Center, Academic Advising, Residential Life, the Big Dolphin Program, the Horizon Program, Freshman Summer Orientation, the JU101 course and more.

Gover notes that receiving a new university president, Tim Cost, on top of the strategic committees and initiatives, allowed for an extra pulse of excitement and encouragement to help bring back more students. The additions of Chick-fil-A, veterans center and the new College of Health Sciences facility. The improvements of the cafeteria and the plans for the River House didn’t hurt either.

“All of these things send a really strong message that we care about and are listening to the students, and that we are actually following through on what we hear,” Gover said. “That is really what helped jolt the campus and create that shift in the culture.”

Campus-wide improvements and additions are not the only facets that encourage students, but financial aid and scholarships also affect whether freshmen return to JU or not. If a student’s GPA falls below a certain average, the student will lose financial aid for the following year. JU’s goal is to help educate students and offer assistance with getting back on track academically so that they can return the next year with the same amount of aid they received as a freshman, Gover said.

Students who are involved in clubs, athletics and organizations tend to return because these students seem to have a more enjoyable experience while attending JU, Gover said.

“They have their affinity groups, have made friends through those groups, have an advisor that has helped them along the way, or have a coach that has been instrumental in the athlete’s success,” Gover said.

Sophomores indicate that the small campus size allows for more quality attention and relationships between professor and student.

“I returned to JU because of the [small] classroom size and the one-on-one attention,” said Blanca Fernandez, sophomore exercise science major.

Director of Student Solutions Center, Laura Andrews, mentions that sometimes in order to be successful, reinventing the wheel is not necessary. Rather, being consistent, communicative and understanding how and when to adjust the design allows progress and growth for the initiatives.

“It is definitely the university that has pulled together,” Andrews said. “It is not one certain initiative. I think we’ve seen the fruit of the labor after three years. I think we’re all excited for next year and how we can increase it, but I think the jump has really been spearheaded by Dr. Gover and President Cost.”

Andrews would like to see another radical increase in the retention rate for next year. However, she understands that is a tough goal to accomplish.

“We would love to see another 10 percent increase,” Andrews said. “That would be wishful thinking. I would love to see an increase in the three-to-five range. That’s my goal for next year, but it’s university-wide and we will have to work together. I think we can do it.”

The impact of the work of the past three years hasn’t gone unnoticed by students, alumni and faculty.

“I think the energy on campus is much different,” Gover said. “Things that you don’t think make a difference, make a difference. It’s hard to say that there is one factor that impacted the campus. I believe it is a shift in the culture and we are really fortunate to be a part of that. I think we’ve only seen the beginning of change; the tip of the iceberg.”

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