Retention rates at DSU need improvement

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Dixie State University does a great job of recruiting students to enroll and attend school here, but the school has not done very well at retaining these students.

DSU had a 51.3 percent retention rate for students returning to school in fall of 2016. This means roughly half of the students you or I see throughout the semester will not be back next year.

One of my favorite things about DSU is the number of students there are. Because it is a smaller university with under 9,000 students, there is a more intimate feeling. 

With each new semester there are brand-new faces ready to experience all DSU has to offer. However, with each new semester there are also fewer faces I recognize.

Here are a few reasons why I think students may not stick around at DSU to get a degree.

The predominant reason a student may leave early is because DSU does not have the program or degree he or she wants. In my case, DSU doesn’t even have the political science minor I want.

Students come to DSU because it is cheap, they can get good grades, and then they transfer to another university. I have known several students who have transferred to another university to get an engineering degree because DSU currently does not have any kind of engineering degree. 

One of the main draws for students to come here is the cost. But sometimes it is worth it to pay extra for higher quality. When I was on the school senate, biology students appealed to us for new microscopes because more than half the current ones were old and unusable. Any schooling looking to retain a greater majority of its students should not have a problem like this.

Another reason a student might leave DSU before graduating is because there are better facilities at other schools. I’ve been to schools like Utah State University and Utah Valley University. The science labs, recreational facilities and even on-campus food options are just better. DSU does not have the budget to compete, and for some students, it is a turn-off.

To help mitigate some of these issues, DSU would like to add a couple master’s degree programs in the next few years, a plan which has already been funded and is in the works. DSU President Biff Williams outlined this desire to add master’s programs in the near future during his state of the university address.

Last legislative session, DSU received requisite funding for a collaboration between the University of Utah and DSU to have the U of U’s physical therapy and physician’s assistant programs come to St. George and offer a PA and a PT degree. U of U’s PA program is ranked fifth in the nation and its PT program is also ranked in the top 20. 

The addition of these programs have been on the docket of DSU administrators for quite some time. Until these programs can actually be secured, the issue with retention will remain. 

DSU is also in the process of funding a new Human Performance Center, which would replace the current recreation center. This would host not only a state-of-the-art recreation facility for extra-curricular activities, but it would also be the home of several of the incoming graduate programs like PT and electrical engineering.

Administrators at DSU have also developed a program for faculty to help increase the retention rate called “Top 10 things faculty can do to improve retention.” Among the things listed are encouraging attendance, building class rapport, providing academic support, and interacting with students beyond class.

There are also efforts to offer further support to first-generation students. Faculty are supposed to do this by identifying which students are first-generation, and then provide them with support and mentor them throughout the year. They also reach out to parents and create a multi-layer support system for these students. This program can be found on dixie.edu/faculty. This sounds promising, but it turns out I know more about this support system than the faculty members I have asked about it.

These proposed solutions may neutralize some of the retention issues at DSU, but that can only be the case if this becomes a more unfified effort. It is also contingent upon more funding in academic areas. 

If DSU can implement its plans to grow and retain, then the future is bright for current and incoming students. The trick to succeed is coming up with the means make these plans come to fruition.