This year, the buzzword at the local university is “retention.” What it amounts to for faculty and staff is, essentially, to do anything possible to keep students in school. Act as their friend or their counselor. Give them any way you can to pass courses. Ensure that they get instant positive feedback.

Along with this comes a blizzard of brand-new acronyms, a program to train faculty as emergency counselors and psychologists [because the three new counselors the administration hired are so far behind that they’ll never get through the caseload of students], and the very clear message that university faculty members are responsible for getting students through in five years or less, faculty and no one else.

Since most entering students have never really had to work hard to learn and study, they’re not really prepared for college-level work, and it often seems like they can’t wait to get out of class and return to their smart-phones and ear-buds.

And that doesn’t include the facts that the local university is located in a culture where more than half the students take off two years for a Church mission, where women are pressured to marry and have children young, and where the majority of students feel “crushed,” if they get a grade below an “A” even when they don’t do the work. That doesn’t take into account that roughly half of the students are working part-time or full-time because families averaging five children spaced close together can almost never provide anywhere close to the funds necessary for college.

Then add to that the fact that many classes are taught by underpaid adjuncts who are juggling other jobs and commitments, and that the administrative loads dumped on full-time teaching faculty continue to increase and result in longer and longer hours providing information and reports to administrators that have very little to do with teaching.

And, of course, it’s absolutely taboo for a faculty member to even hint at asking whether some of these students should even be in college or whether the university is doing those students any favors by trying to keep them in classes as long as possible.

The truly miraculous aspect of it all is that so many faculty members struggle to do their best for students who are seldom grateful and an administration that’s preoccupied with numbers and thinks that excellence can be quantified by retention numbers.

7 thoughts on “Retention”

  1. Jim S says:

    Gee… There’s a simple way to achieve that goal of retention and graduation within 5 years.

    If all they care about are the scraps of sheepskin and ribbons… Give ’em to them on Day 1. 100% graduation rate, in record setting time. (For the university’s bursar’s piece of mind — collect all fees up front, too.)

    After that, let them attend the classes. The ones that care will actually show up and try to learn. The rest? Well, they’ll speak for themselves in the real world.

    Of course, the school’s reputation will become crap. Or there will be an automatic analysis of a “graduate” as to whether they actually attended or simply collected the papers.

    Maybe I’m a little cynical. I don’t like the skyrocketing price of college — but I also don’t think everyone should go to college. A classical/university based education isn’t required for lots of excellent jobs and careers. And we need — desperately! — mechanics and plumbers and carpenters and…

    Maybe we should send more people on dangergelds…

  2. darcherd says:

    Isn’t the Mormon 2-year mission LEM cites the equivalent of a dangergeld?

    1. If you call constant proselytizing of your faith a trial, it might be a dangergeld of sorts, except that an LDS mission is not one of self-discovery, but one of finding/exalting a specific faith.

  3. Conrad says:

    This retention focus is driven by the government policy to give money to state universities based on timely graduating students rather than gross enrollment; this filtered down to private colleges so now promotions, salary raises, tenure and other privileges have a big retention part.

    as for the general philosophical discussions about what college is for and who should go, the only thing I would always ask people talking about the so called “good jobs”, like plumbers, carpenters etc is if they do/did them, have family/friends doing them etc… yes you can make good money in them but they are hard, wear one out fast, have low social status and so on, so for better or worse, college (maybe with an army stint for some boys to teach discipline) has become a must for success these days

  4. Jim S says:

    I didn’t say and I didn’t mean to imply that blue collar jobs like carpenter, plumber, etc. were easy, nor that they didn’t take intelligence and training. A good carpenter — construction or cabinetry — knows a LOT about engineering and running any business successfully takes a deft hand.

    I was and I wasn’t ready for my first year of college. Probably would have benefited from a tour in the service first, but fortunately, attended a school that provided a very good deal of structure (perhaps attention to those demands was reflected in my grades…). I’m a fan of a year or two minimum of paramilitary structured service after high school; not everyone needs to nor should be a military service member, but the paramilitary structure is a proven method of teaching certain lessons en masse. It’d also let them save up for college costs…

    And I do agree — in today’s world, for many jobs and for upward mobility, a college degree is pretty much required. But I (and I’m not alone) wonder if that’s really a good thing… In my profession (law enforcement), many agencies are now requiring at least 60 credits of college. Then they’re still sent to an academy, to learn how to be a cop. And the finish is put on them in field training. But those 60 credits — or even a 4 year degree in some cases — don’t have to have any relevance to law enforcement… they just need the ticket punch. (As an aside, many Criminal Justice/Administration of Justice/Criminalistics degrees are at best a decent pre-law program; some are simply focused sociology programs or government studies programs with a focus on criminal law… Few provide useful LE skills to any real extent. Those few that do generally incorporate an academy into the college program.) Even outside my own field — lots of places don’t care what a degree is in, so long as it’s a degree, except for a fairly narrow range of professions like engineering or medicine.

    Is there an easy fix? Nope. No way. But just because there’s not an easy fix doesn’t mean things aren’t broken, either.

  5. Tom says:

    What is described is a loss of expectation of excellence.

    There is an increasing literature questioning the continued presence of Democracy in this century. It seems that government of the people by the people does not work very well if the people do not demand excellence of themselves ( this used to be through ‘education’). Autocracy, even tyranny, seems required to make people give of their best, and that includes students. This requires a system of inter-personal communication that results in a person held down to their highest ability rather than letting them float up to their level of incompetence. The trick is to do so positively and not negatively, thus maintaining their ego. I have not read any suggestions of how to accomplish this.

    Any ideas or perhaps references? (I am aware of the example of Singapore but there seem to be cracks developing in that edifice of excellence also).

  6. JakeB says:


    that’s an interesting point. There was a regard for excellence among the ancient Greeks — as seen in the value of the words ‘aristos’ and ‘beltistos’ — but of course their society was founded on a massive number of slaves and a complete disregard for the value of women. As if the worship of excellence also requires an outsider class that can be despised and compared against.

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