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Task force lays out retention plan

BY EMILY BUSSE | FEBRUARY 16, 2010 7:30 AM

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Increasing retention is key for student success, and the university should implement programs to attract and keep more students, a university task force said on Monday.

And more students means more tuition money for the cash-strapped institution.

The Task Force on Undergraduate Education and Success plan aims to enroll 100 more students every year through 2014 and place each first-year student in a Living Learning Community.

This move would help increase retention rates by 5 percent in the next six years, task-force member and biomedical engineering Associate Professor Edwin Dove said.

“High-school students have been with a group since kindergarten … and then all of a sudden, they get stuck in this very large environment we call the university,” he said. “What we would like to do is help students make a transition from high school into working as an upper-class person by shrinking the psychological size of the university.”

While new and expanded efforts often come with a price tag, UI Provost Wallace Loh said the suggestions are still cost-saving measures.

“The task forces aren’t coming back and saying, ‘Here’s how we can pour money on a problem,’ ” he said. “They’re offering excellent ideas to work with what we have.”

To expand recruitment and better retain students, the task force suggested UI officials:

• Look beyond state and country boundaries. The task force recommended increasing recruitment travel to 10 states and Washington, D.C., as well as to more than dozen locations worldwide. The efforts would cost around $47,000 for domestic travel — up from their current $23,000 travel tab — and roughly $135,000 for recruitment abroad.

• Broaden living-learning community themes to get every student involved, offering topics applicable to more than one major, such as sustainability or leadership.

• Offer more first-year seminars — a way to foster valuable student-faculty relationships, said Beth Ingram, associate provost for undergraduate education, who taught a first-year seminar on science fiction and economics.

“It gave me a way to connect with first-year students and see what they were thinking,” Ingram said, and that connection helps bind them to the university.

According to the report, the top reason students gave for dropping out was classes were too large.

Two years ago, the UI offered 50 first-year seminars and this year the number rose to 120.

UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan on Feb. 1 that the university’s student-success efforts were focused on “making the UI a small and intimate place.”

But increasing enrollment by 100 students per year for the next four years will not only bring — and hopefully keep — more students at the university. It will also garner more tuition money, Ingram said.

“Students don’t cost us money,” Ingram said. “We like having more students, and we have the capacity.”

But more students and more specific communities would call for reorganization of residence halls, Dove said.

Some would have to be modified for those accommodations, and the report notes they will consider constructing or purchasing property for additional dormitories.

Though there is no timeline or financial plan for opening more residence halls, other projects such as increasing living-learning communities and seminars have already been in place for years.

“We’re really are already partly toward our goal,” said task force head and music Professor David Gier. “These are things that are already happening here.”


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