Ninety-one percent of members of Butler University’s 2011 freshman class came back for their sophomore year, which is 14 percent higher than the national average, according to U.S. News.and World Report.
Butler takes an interest in making sure that freshmen and sophomores are put in the highest importance when it comes to retention, Vice President for Student Affairs Levester Johnson said.
“It’s important to work along others to make sure that students are acclimated to Butler and that they find their niche and academic success,” Johnson said.
For the past nine years, the freshman retention rate has been in the high 80’s or more.
Mary Ramsbottom. associate provost for student academic affairs provided insight to how Butler compares to other schools in the nation.
“We are the same or above the rate of most other small liberal arts colleges, but we out pass the big public universities,” Ramsbottom said. “The students of those public universities are the concerns. They go to school for maybe one or two years and accumulate student debt. Those students are not our students.”
Johnson said he thinks Butler provides for students so they want to stay.
“We make sure to provide the basic essentials,” Johnson said. “We house you, have health services, a recreational facility and counseling for your body health. We have engagement in our classrooms for your mental health. For spiritual health we encourage connectedness to others, religious organizations on campus service and more.”
“We’ve seen that students who are involved and have a deep connection to that involvement are more likely to stay here,” said Sally Click, dean of student services.
The Student Affairs Office provides students with opportunities through the clubs it supports, Click said.
Counseling and Consultation Services also has been shown to help retain students.
In a recent counseling survey, 84 percent of students said their counseling experience made them want to stay at Butler.
But Johnson said he believes retention starts before students even get here.
“Input is important,” Johnson said. “You have to think about the product you’re getting initially. If we tell them that we have small school classes where they will have great engagement with the faculty, then we have to provide that.”
Click said she believes Butler is upfront about what it has to offer from the beginning.
“We’re honest to students from the beginning about what we offer,” Click said. “We just have to hope that it’s a match.”
However, for the cases when all of those contributing factors are not enough, some students choose to leave Butler.
When a student goes to the registrar to request a transcript, he or she is given the option to answer why they are leaving. If they claim to be transferring out, exit interviews are put in place.
One of these interviewers is Emily Burke, associate director of the Learning Resource Center.
“I reach out to them and ask to know why they are choosing to leave,” Burke said. “It’s an opportunity for students to bring up concerns.”
The questions during these interviews are geared towards the students’ reasons for leaving. It takes into account their entire Butler experience.
“We ask them about everything. We want to know about their academics, social life, challenges, positives and their overall experience,” Burke said.
Even if they don’t stay, Butler keeps with the students who request a transfer.
“We are understanding and help them with the process even if they don’t decide to stay,” Ramsbottom said. “The decisions made by 17-year-olds get revised and should be. You have to expect some people to leave Butler; their interests may have changed.”
Even with the students who ultimately decide to leave after their interview, Burke has found one commonality: All of them love their Butler experience.
“You would expect that people come in with negative feelings toward Butler, but 100 percent, or close to that, of students talk about what a good experience they had,” Burke said.
Despite the positive remarks, transfer students are still able to name their reasons for leaving. Vice President for Enrollment Management Tom Weede said that students generally leave for three reasons.
“Some students who transfer out want to be closer to home, need a major that’s not offered here or are having financial issues,” Weede said.
The two most common are changing of major or financial issues.
“Some students come to Butler because it has a specific major and then change their mind. They leave to have more options,” Burke said. “The financial issues usually come from the current economy, and they just can’t afford it anymore.”
Butler has added new programs targeted toward sophomores and juniors to keep them feeling the love that freshman and seniors tend to receive more of. Administration has also been attempting to represent more diverse members of campus.
Burke said Butler’s retention rate can only grow.
“Butler has always had a strong retention rate,” Burke said. “I think that as the university grows and we get more unique and diverse, we will improve different areas and improve the strong retention rate we already have.”
Butler also recently adopted a new online system to better track student retention.
The National Student Clearing House System is a data site that colleges use to input a data to track student’s education.
“We’ve only just started using it, so we don’t have any data,” said Burke. “Eventually though we will be able to track where people are going after Butler and even whether or not they finished at that school.”
Ramsbottom said, at the end of the day, many students enjoy Butler and return for many reasons, including the community.
“A student is in contact with many different people every day,” Ramsbottom said. “The Dining Hall worker who makes your sandwich everyday has as much to do with your positivity as your professors, advisors or peers.”