Kirkwood works to lower dropout rate

BY MEGAN DIAL | APRIL 03, 2009 7:37 AM

The first few weeks of class are crucial to the success of new students at community colleges, and officials at Kirkwood Community College are already gearing up for a bigger welcome event next semester.

“It is very important,” said Steve Carpenter, the public information director at Kirkwood. “I think our Student Life and Student Support Services would say we are becoming more aware of that.”

Each year, Kirkwood students participate in the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, which asks them to reflect on their college experiences. The survey touches on how they spend their time, what they gain from classes, and how they feel about their relationships and interactions with faculty.

The questionnaire is administered by the Community College Leadership Program; it began in 2001, when Kirkwood was one of only 12 colleges to participate. In 2009, 315 colleges completed the survey.

From year to year, the results consistently reveal students need the most support during the first few weeks of school in order to successfully complete college.

“I think there is a generalized college shock,” Carpenter said. “Especially for those who are away from home for the first time. The college rigors of scholarship are pretty much demanding that they kick it up a notch.”

Kirkwood has had a welcome event called “Movin’ and Shakin’” for several years, he said. But last year, the school expanded the program into an entire “Welcome Week” with such events as concerts, magicians, and sporting events.

“All those helped put students into positive, interactive environments,” he said.

The UI also has a similar welcome program meant to help ease students into college life.

Carpenter said Kirkwood’s dropout rate is slowly decreasing, and such activities as “Welcome Week,” orientation, and social and academic engagement efforts are all positive factors.

Because of the benefits of these programs, Carpenter said, the economic situation will not have a negative effect on the expansion of welcome events at Kirkwood.

“If anything, the college is planning to actually add a couple of key positions in areas such as student advising, tutoring, and academic assistance,” he said. “Those are needs we have observed and heard directly from students over the past couple of years.”

Many students attend Kirkwood to build work skills or for personal satisfaction and interest — not with the initial goal of earning a degree, Carpenter said.

Thomas Paulsen, an associate director of UI Admissions, said many students go to Kirkwood with the intention of then attending the UI, and most community-college students at the UI transferred from Kirkwood.

In the fall 2008 semester, the UI Registrar’s Office reported 260 students transferred from other Iowa public universities, 297 from private four-year colleges, and 629 from community colleges.

Carpenter said each year, several hundred students who have dropped out of their original four-year college choice enroll at Kirkwood.

“We are proud that many of those students get it together and can later re-enter the original or another four-year school,” Carpenter said.

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