The entering class of 2018 was the smallest fall enrollment in the last 10 years. Over the summer, the class of 2018 became even smaller. The sophomore class sits at a low 482 students as of this fall, compared to the 514 first-year students that entered DePauw University last fall.
Retention is not a new issue for DePauw. Losing only 32 students over the past year is actually a step in the right direction.
“The current first to second year is 94 percent retained,” said President Casey. “It’s an all time institutional high.”
Casey also mentioned that compartively, a 94 percent retention rate is one of the highest in the GLCA.
However, this fall is the only time in the last 10 years of data available from DePauw’s institutional research that DePauw’s sophomore class has dipped below 500 for the fall semester.
The fact that the sophomore class is so small, presents the university with the opportunity to pilot a new program, led by Raj Bellani, dean of Experiential Learning and Career Planning, Dave Berque, dean of Academic Life and Cara Setchell, dean of Students.
“Its both an opportunity and a challenge, so the challenge is there aren’t as many sophomores so we really want as many of them to persist and graduate in two years as possible,” said Berque.
This new pilot is called Compass, and it is designed to better support students in their transition from sophomore year to junior year and into the rest of their time at DePauw.
“We have historically lost more students than we would like between sophomore and junior year, sophomore and senior year and then graduating,” said Berque. “We think we have more of an opportunity to help more of our students persist.”
The pilot Compass program was announced to the current sophomore class yesterday in an email from Cara Setchell.
The email drafted by Belani, Berue and Setchell, explained the program to the sophomores and let them know that they would be contacted by their Compass contact soon.
“[The Compass program] will re-unite your mentor group while also helping you and your sophomore classmates get the most out of your DePauw experience,” read the email.
Mentor groups have proved to be successful in helping students persist from their first year at DePauw to sophomore year. But as Berque mentioned, the fit has to be right.
Would-be junior Maggie Wilson decided to transfer from DePauw after her sophomore year to be closer to home and experience a larger school atmosphere. Wilson wrote in a Facebook message, “DePauw is a great school but not a great fit for everyone.”
Academics have also been a strong contributor for those students who chose to leave.
Jasmine Graham was on the track and field team but ultimately left because tuition was high and she struggled in the classroom her freshman year.
After leaving DePauw, Graham said in a text message, “I think some of the professors that I had could have reached out to help me when they saw I was struggling in their class. Only one of my professors did that and I am very appreciative of her because she helped me get the grade I knew I deserved.”
The Compass program hopes to address these issues with students by providing them another resource on campus.
“Some students have really established a connection to a thing or a person here who can help them, other students haven’t and I think one thing that the contact is going to do is make sure that all of the students have someone,” said Berque.
There are also students leave for academic reasons that have nothing to do with the rigor of course material. Kaitlin Wirey would have been a sophomore at DePauw this fall but decided her career path was better suited by attending another university.
“I wanted to study something specific that the university didn't have," said Wirey. "It wasn't anything about the university that made me leave. There are parts that I miss about DePauw, but my current school is a better fit for my future and where I want to head.”
The Compass program also has a goal to get career information out to students early to let them know that anything is possible with a liberal arts background.
“Every industry that you can have in the processional school or another institution can happen from a liberal arts background but the pathway is a little different so we have to support that,” said Bellini. “What we are trying to do is for each student to get guidance early on, as to how they can make their career aspirations happen.”
Getting the relevant information to sophomores seems to be a pattern in retention efforts all across the compass program.
“We want to make sure to every student is able to take advantage of the full array of opportunities that DePauw offers,” said Setchell. “Sometimes we get the feedback that not every student knows what those opportunities are and that will be an important goal of the compass program.”
DePauw Student Government has also been concerned about DePauw’s retention rate and believes that students could benefit opportunities to get involved beyond the activities fair, which is held in the first few weeks of the fall semester.
One of their ideas is to host a second activity fair that would take a different form than the one first semester, at the beginning of second semester.
“The idea is we need to make an effort to keep freshman engaged second semester," said Kondry. "First semester the might have not signed up for a number of activities first semester, maybe they played a fall sport, maybe they were just too overwhelmed by homework at the time and didn’t really think about it.”
Based off of the information about retention at the patterns the deans are trying to address with the Compass program, more than just first-years could benefit from some sort of activities fair both semesters.