A single number rarely tells the whole story, yet universities often announce fall enrollment numbers without sharing what those numbers mean. The assumption has always been that up is good, down is bad. End of story.
Earlier this month, our official headcount for the fall 2017 semester was released. We have 3,582 students enrolled at Shawnee State this semester, a 5% decrease from last fall. While this is the smallest class we’ve had in several years, it’s also one of our strongest — and reflects initiatives we launched over the past 18 months as a result of strategic planning.
Over the years, as our enrollment numbers increased rapidly, so did our turnover rates. An increasing number of students left SSU after only one or two semesters. Many of these students left with college debt and no degree to help them pay back their student loans. Improving student success and retention, and ultimately helping them reach graduation, was one of the main areas of focus during the development of our strategic plan. Working with students, parents, faculty, staff, business and community leaders, and legislators, we launched a number of initiatives to give students, particularly those who are the first in their families to go to college and those identified as at-risk, the support they need to successfully reach their education goals.
One of the most impactful has been the creation of our Bridge to Success program. This past summer, we admitted students who required pre-college courses, based on their submitted ACT and placement scores, to our six-week summer program. Through the program, they were able to take courses that prepare them for college-level classes and work with academic and career counselors, without taking on college debt. Of the 134 participants this summer, 70% successfully completed the program and nearly 80 percent of those entered Shawnee State this fall fully college ready. That’s a huge step toward successfully completing their degrees.
We also changed advising practices this year, providing more intensive counseling for all students and helping them develop clear and fast paths to the finish line. The results have shown in the size of our graduating classes. We’ve graduated a larger percentage of our students in 2016 and 2017 than ever before, helping our graduates enter the workforce sooner and reducing their college costs. Our current retention rate (65% overall; 50% among developmental students) is the highest in our history. Students are registering for more hours, on average, which contributes to their ability to advance through the system and earn degrees more quickly — something that they, their parents and their future employers appreciate.
All these efforts strengthen our student population and position us to continue to help more students reach their goals — namely earn degrees that prepare them for careers of tomorrow.
It’s good to begin to see the results of our efforts and how each step strengthens our mission and brings us closer to realizing our shared vision for Shawnee State and its service to the region. I look forward to continuing to share data – and student success stories – with you as we progress with our strategic plan.