Task Force Investigates Student Retention

(Jon Bjornson/THE OBSERVER).

Staff Writer

Earlier this year, president Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. released a statement addressed to all members of the Fordham community on the university’s slight dip from 60th to 61st in the US News and World Report’s 2018 rankings of American universities. Among the factors he addressed as being a reason for the university’s drop was its retention rate (which accounts for a significant 22.5 percent of the overall rank given to a university), a figure McShane claimed had “gone up [in the past year], but not by enough.” University-released statistics from last December support the notion that this has been a growing trend for Fordham’s retention rate, where graduation numbers have remained in the ballpark of 79-80 percent for the freshman classes of ’08-’12. This stagnation motivated the president to find out what exactly has kept rates at these levels.

To evaluate where Fordham stands, McShane assembled a Task Force on Undergraduate Retention last April chaired by Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) Assistant Dean for Freshmen and Director of Academic Advising Joseph Desciak. The group includes 11 other members of the Fordham community, with backgrounds ranging from Desciak’s own, to faculty at Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH), FCLC, both campuses of the Gabelli School of Business, representatives of Enrollment Services as well as Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students at Lincoln Center Keith Eldredge.

Desciak, without revealing the exact numbers the group had found in their research, explained that he and the rest of the committee do not believe that Fordham’s present retention rate is particularly troubling when considering factors such as medical leave and dismissals, things that may not necessarily reflect a failing on the part of the university. There are also certain unavoidable factors that naturally hurt Fordham’s retention. “Fordham is expensive. Fordham is in New York City,” Desciak said. “From what we’ve seen, most of the time, it’s a financial issue.”

In addition, Desciak noted that, from his experience, “Pretty much all of the withdrawing students are transferring to another school, and not dropping out entirely.”

The full report on Fordham’s student retention is due to be released this coming January and will contain data on the reflections of students who chose not to continue their education at Fordham. The task force has also sought to acquire information from a sampling of former members of the Fordham community on the conditions of their departure from the school. Dean Desciak indicated that this process was an important one, as the current university-wide withdrawal form “contains just one single line asking for the students’ reason for withdrawal,” a frustrating limitation the group has had to work around.

While this makes finding proper information more challenging, it will not keep the committee from unveiling their report of nine recommended action items, which Desciak explained as covering “everything from big dreams to small practical issues.” The exact details will have to wait until January, but among them is an action plan revolving around proposals to change the facilitation of academic advising, which Desciak himself directs here at Lincoln Center.

These initiatives would accompany a physical redesign of the academic dean’s office on the 8th floor of the Lowenstein building, coming this Spring semester, as well as including a controlled test run for a new version of of the platform used for advising all students: the Student Success Collaborative (SSC). This would impact the way advising appointments are scheduled, work to congregate information from Banner into a format more easily accessible to the deans, allow for easier access to student’s email addresses and, most importantly, comes with a brand new career placement prediction system, which works to identify what courses and career paths are likely to be better or worse fits for a student based on their past coursework. This change to the SSC is something the Task Force is “very committed to moving forward, ” and after a test run next semester will be up for adoption university-wide, according to Desciak.

Often, he finds the issue to be that students are simply never aware of the opportunities Fordham provides until it is too late in the withdrawal process. “A student at Rose Hill transferred to pursue a minor in fashion studies,” he said, “not knowing that it’s offered here at Lincoln Center.” With a better portal to identify these sorts of career ambitions, the Fordham administration is hoping to prove that it is devoted to maintaining more students through completed academic careers here at Fordham.