Belonging and retention: it’s not rocket science

A recent article in the Chronicle offers what may be a needed reminder about the importance of advising and the role it plays in fostering a sense of belonging for students. Aaron Basko, who previously worked at Salisbury University and is now assistant assistant vice president for enrollment management at the University of Lynchburg, wonders whether we have gotten student success “completely backward.” In our efforts to apply “complex technocratic approaches” to the problem of student retention, Basko writes, we forget to consider what makes students stay.

Yet we have data that helps us understand what matters for students and contributes to their staying in school, Basko argues. A Gallup-Purdue Index, based on a poll of over 30,000 students, describes “The Big 6 for Student Success.” And the good news is that they are experiences that small liberal arts colleges are especially adept at fostering: “These experiences included items like faculty who made them excited about learning and cared about them as a person, a long-term project or internship where they could apply what they were learning, a mentor, and high involvement in extracurricular activities.” Perhaps it is simply a matter of good old-fashioned advising, Basko suggests, mentioning the Furman Advantage Program at Furman University as an example of a school that has re-focused their efforts on these basic, positive experiences.

You can still do what many of us got into this business to do in the first place: help students understand who they are and imagine what they could become.

Aaron Basko, “Have we gotten student success completely backward?” The Chronicle of Higher Education. November 29, 2021.

The other good news here is that this approach does not require an abundance of resources. Basko concludes with an encouraging tone: “If you can’t afford to build a retention platform, create a student-success center, or hire more advisers, you can still do what many of us got into this business to do in the first place: help students understand who they are and imagine what they could become.”

For other posts about advising or belonging see:

Hannah Schell was a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Monmouth College in Illinois from 2001-2018. She is the author of “Commitment and Community: The Virtue of Loyalty and Vocational Discernment” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed. David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press, 2015), and, more recently, “Loyalty in the Time of Catastrophe: Anthropocene Reflections” (co-written with Mark Larrimore). Currently the Online Community Coordinator and the editor of this blog, she is also a campus consultant for NetVUE. Click here to see other blog posts by Hannah.

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