Tuesday, April 5, 2011

on-campus work and retention

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.

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