are students abandoning ship? – The Oracle
The Oracle reported on the new wave of faculty and staff departures this spring, and new census data indicates that students are also leaving, more now than in previous years.
Administrators consider the current retention numbers to be good given the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamline’s student body has been slowly but steadily declining since 2014, according to the Hamline Office of Institutional Effectiveness website.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated what those studying in higher education call the demographic cliff: a sharp projected decline in university applicants in the mid-2020s. pandemic, 73.3% of fall 2019 freshmen returned to Hamline in fall 2020, and 71% of fall 2020 freshmen returned to Hamline in fall 2021.
In fall 2019, there were 2,045 undergraduate students at Hamline, which dropped to 1,925 in fall 2020. As of fall 2021, Hamline’s student body numbered 1,795.
Now, the 2022 spring semester has brought even fewer students back to Hamline, according to new census data reports. Area leaders provided a report to faculty members saying Hamline currently has 1,304 undergraduate students. Census data also indicates that 89.3% of first years this year returned to Hamline for their second semester, reports the Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
Lucy Bowman, Jaden Halabi and Harper Jenny all entered Hamline in the fall of 2019 and are three of the many students who eventually transferred.
In interviews with the Oracle, all three mention the pandemic as part of their transfer reasons, with Halabi and Jenny citing Hamline’s own response as part of their issue.
Jenny, who transferred to the University of Minnesota after spring 2020, cites the pandemic as their last straw.
“The pandemic hit and I felt an anxiety before spring break that seemed to go unanswered. Hamline is based on the concept of taking the lead but was the last to act in response to the pandemic. It was horrible leaving my stuff at the dorm, coming home for spring break, and then having to drive all the way back to pick up my stuff because of their lack of communication,” Jenny noted.
Halabi was also unhappy with Hamline’s response to the pandemic. Although he met some great people at Hamline and loved his classes, he left Hamline after the fall 2020 semester. Halabi’s main reason was Hamline’s spring to fall tuition increase 2020, which the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov) reports as a 5.5% increase.
“I wasn’t getting the education I wanted through Zoom and the rising tuition was a real deal breaker. I want to make it clear that I loved Hamline, but I’m not going to go into further debt for an upbringing that I wasn’t happy with,” Halabi said.
He is now studying public health at the University of Minnesota.
Hamline administrators are working on strategies to increase retention, with some encouraged by this year’s numbers.
Lisa Nordeen, who is Hamline’s assistant dean for academic achievement and retention, says students have been confused by the past two years of hybrid education, but sees the new retention numbers positively.
“What I’ve seen this year is that despite the fact that we’ve had an ongoing pandemic and the challenges that have come with it, our numbers are actually pretty decent,” they said.
As a staff member of the Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA), Nordeen is involved in many ongoing strategies for student success and retention.
“What we work with here at CASA is to help students re-engage,” they said. “When you create this student-centered environment, it’s just better for everyone.”
Part of CASA’s role is to meet with students to provide advice and academic support. Based on the feedback they have received from students, CASA believes that many are overwhelmed with balancing responsibility and managing their mental health.
Additionally, Nordeen is part of the Early Warning Committee, which brings together representatives from across campus to create a support network for students who have concerning alerts submitted by faculty.
They also mentioned a strategic enrollment management plan that is before the board. While Nordeen can’t talk about specifics until it’s voted on, they said the plan includes consistent program evaluation.
They encourage struggling students to ask for help.
“CASA is here to support students,” Nordeen said, adding that departments and programs across campus want to engage with affected students.
Other administrators echo that sentiment, including Acting Provost Andy Rundquist and College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Dean Marcela Kostihova.
“We are all interested in working together to provide holistic support,” Kostihova said.
While Nordeen works with university staff, Kostihova deals with student retention and success rates with faculty, but she doesn’t concern herself with retention numbers.
“I look, of course, at the retention numbers, but I like to think less about the concept of retention and more about the concept of student success,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to get the four-year completion rate as high as possible.”
Currently, the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov) has a Hamline four-year completion rate of 55%.
“There’s a lot of work already happening organically in our classrooms,” Kostihova said, and mentioned the accelerated program review as a way for CLA to align programs with what students want and need, as well as CLA’s ongoing work to create ramps. and offramps for students who want to change majors.
To keep the pulse of student opinion, Kostihova reads every teaching evaluation that is submitted at the end of a semester, as do department chairs and relevant committees. She also reviews every university survey on COVID-19 and meets periodically with HUSC.
Another important feedback tool comes in the form of a brief survey for students dropping out of Hamline University. Although Nordeen and Kostihova both note that many students do not complete it, those who do mostly cite financial hardship, personal well-being and family responsibilities, many of which are related to COVID-19.
Many students who left Hamline in the past two years did so because of the pandemic, and Nordeen views current rates positively due to these unprecedented circumstances.
Although Halabi, Jenny and Bowman all cite COVID-19 as one of their transfer reasons, none of the three singularly attribute their decision to the pandemic.
“I probably would have stayed [at Hamline] if there were more opportunities in my field,” Jenny said.
Initially, Jenny enjoyed the Hamline benefits of small class sizes and campus life, however, they eventually noted that the small campus and programs felt limited for them.
“If I spent twice as much on tuition compared to the University of Minnesota to attend Hamline, you’d think there would be twice as much opportunity there,” Jenny remarked.
Bowman also left because Hamline did not have the degree she was looking for.
“At the end of the day, being in a small school wasn’t for me,” she said.
Regardless of the many possible causes, retention remains a subject for which Hamline administrators continue to find concrete solutions.