Retention expert says focus on mission and values


For Immediate Release
Jan. 18, 2000

No university should ever concede what really matters - its mission and values - to keep students, said Dr. Vincent Tinto, the leading authority on student retention, at a series of discussions last week at Abilene Christian University.

"It is an honor to be speaking at an institution that still has a sense of mission and purpose," Tinto said at the Friday luncheon. "An institution's mission is what makes the education valuable."

Tinto, distinguished professor and chair of the higher education department at Syracuse University, came to ACU at the request of Dr. Mark Davis, dean of ACU's first-year program.

Student retention has become a major concerns for colleges and universities nationwide, and Tinto is often asked to serve as a consultant and speaker as higher education leaders try to address the issue of why students leave, Davis said.

ACU has launched several initiatives during the past year to enhance student achievement and help more students persist through graduation. Hiring Davis as first-year dean was one part of a comprehensive program designed to connect students to the university, support them, and help them succeed.

"If you just ask, 'How can we keep our students?' you're asking the wrong question," Tinto said. "Higher retention levels result from effective education. That's the bottom line."

Tinto stressed that student education is everyone's business on campus - the faculty and the staff from all areas of the campus.

"Retention is a community thing," he said. "We need the skills and knowledge of everyone to make this work."

Statistics show that 60 percent of all students who leave do so before the start of the second year. For that reason, Tinto recommends that schools front-load resources in the first year.

"Begin at the beginning," he said. "Make sure everything you do early - New Student Orientation, Welcome Week, University 100 - meets students needs and helps them become more connected to the university."

Tinto said institutions that are successful in graduating a higher percentage of students are both intentional and proactive. He explained a number of general reasons why students leave college, including academic boredom, uncertainty about their future, a feeling of isolation and a lack of commitment.

"Students' expectations must match reality, they must be challenged, and they must make connections with their teachers and their peers," Tinto said. He also stressed that colleges must find out how students experience their institution instead of making assumptions based on faculty and staff perceptions.

Tinto summarized this way: "There is no one cause and no one cure relating to student achievement and retention. Most importantly, they need to make sure students have access to accurate information, give them support, get them involved and make sure they're learning. These are the building blocks for student success."

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Last update: Jan. 18, 2000
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