This year, as every year, our campus is looking at retention. Our institutional retention rate has crept up over the past several years; it was 79% last year, our best number ever. As we break down the data, there are two factors that predict retention more than any others--level of previous academic performance, and working on-campus.
Previous academic performance is no surprise, since it tracks with what we know about success in college--if you have done well in school in the past (which is often a factor of high socio-economic status and family culture) you are likely to do well in the future, and likely to say in school.
But on-campus work is different. It doesn't depend on high SES. (In fact, getting a job on campus often depends on having a lower-than-average SES). It is a factor that the school itself can control. Compared with the expense of other retention efforts, it may be relatively cheap. And work can, in fact, have a meaningful impact on learning. (Westminster has begun requiring all on-campus jobs to specify how the job helps students achieve the college's learning goals.)
Students who work on campus at Westminster as freshmen are 6 to 10 percent more likely to be retained than students as a whole. On-campus work isn't a panacea. Schools in the Work Colleges Consortium (where all students work) have retention rates that range from 36% to 82%. But a campus interested in investing in retention would be wise to put its money in student jobs.