Retention rates at IUS dropped sharply over the past year, with uncertainty around in-person classes weighing heavy on students’ minds, university data and survey responses show.
At IUS, the retention rate dropped by 14%, from 4,090 undergrad students in 2020 to 3,514 in 2021.
Retention rate is defined as the percentage of first-year students who persist in their studies and return to a college or university for their sophomore year.
At IUS, the retention rate measures the number of first-year students who start attending the previous fall and return to the university the following fall.
Dr. Donna Dahlgren, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and professor of psychology at IUS, has been working with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness to figure out the cause of this downward trend.
“I think there are multiple reasons that have led to this big rate drop,” she said. “One reason some students want to wait until the pandemic is over is because they want to go to the university when everything is ‘normal.’”
Dahlgren also said some students reported that they were in a worse financial situation than expected due to the pandemic, so they chose to work and save some money before college.
“Others were not satisfied with their online experience in high school,” she added. “They simply did not want to participate in online courses.”
These findings are important, Dahlgren said, because the student retention rate contributes to improved graduation rates.
Responses to an IUS survey illustrate further why many students decide to stop or interrupt their education anyway.
“I took some relevant data from each of those surveys to perhaps answer the ‘why students don’t re-enroll’ or enroll at all,” said Ronald Severtis, director of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
Severtis indicated that in 2020, about 51% of respondents thought in-person education was very important, while 28% did not believe it was important at all. Another 10% said it depended on circumstances.
A key variable: 14% of prospects admitted that being in person at class would impact their re-enrollment at IUS. The survey revealed that the share of those willing to postpone online courses until IUS offers in-person classes was also in the 14% range.
The survey additionally showed that for the 2021 return to university, the main worry for 13% of prospects at IUS was that all courses would be online.
Dahlgren put the issue of the coronavirus crisis into perspective.
“The pandemic has been hard on everyone,” she said. “Loved ones have died. Stress is high. It is understandable that some would choose to wait until a later time to come to college.”
At this point, how long colleges and students will be affected by the pandemic remains an open question.
“I hope each student makes the decision that is best for them. We will gladly teach them whenever they choose to come to college,” Dahlgren said.