Retention worries students

By Jackie Nevarez

Students debated the causes of and solutions to NIU’s student retention issue in a town meeting Wednesday.

Janice Hamlet, associate professor of COMS 220: Rhetoric and Public Issues, said she uses what she calls town meetings to teach the class. After Hamlet read an article about an administrator claiming the lack of communication between professors and students was the reason for poor student retention, her class decided to focus on student retention as its next town meeting.

NIU President Doug Baker told University Council members NIU’s freshmen retention rate is 66 percent at Wednesday’s University Council meeting.

“Part of the nature of the class is called ‘rhetoric and public issues,’ and it focuses on the nature of public discourse in society and helping students to become better critical consumers of information,” Hamlet said.

Sarah Stuebing, senior biology major and NIU’s Student Lincoln Laureate, moderated the meeting by asking students retention-based questions and calling on students to give their thoughts.

Importance of student retention

Senior communication major Anthony Sarna said his two years at NIU have shown him how students must take an interest in their school and it is time to figure out why student retention is poor.

“Student retention is our ace in the hole because we do have 20,000 or so students here and that’s a good chunk of Illinois’ younger people trying to get their education,” Sarna said.

Why NIU?

Well-reputed programs, low tuition and proximity were cited as reasons why students may choose NIU.

Senior communication major Marissa Walsh said upperclassmen should be aware of NIU’s retention issue and interact with underclassmen almost as mentors.

“I’m a senior and I have never heard of this issue,” Walsh said. “I’ve never heard that we had freshmen not coming back. That’s [NIU’s retention rate] a big number.”

Alex Huber, sophomore political science major, said poor student retention is not exclusive to NIU and many other universities have the same issue.

“I honestly think that’s because high school doesn’t prepare you at all for college,” Huber said. “A lot of the freedom you gain in college leads to you just relaxing and not going to class or taking it seriously.”

Huskie Shuffle

The Huskie Shuffle, a term used in the Bold Futures Workshops to describe the goings of students from one office to another in search of academic and financial aid help, was discussed as a deterring factor for students staying at NIU.

Wanda Stallings, non-traditional student and speech-language pathology major, said she spoke as a mother and a student when she said the student services provided by NIU are poor.

“I think advising is terrible. I don’t think they are honest with you, and I think they do a lot of misleading,” Stallings said.

Speaking as a parent, Stallings said she would not allow her children to stay at NIU.

“I send a child to school to get an education, and if you’re not getting proper services, if you’re not getting appropriate advising — I understand when you work hard for your money and put forth for you child’s education, I understand why you can say this is unacceptable,” Stallings said.

Lizbeth Roman, sophomore community leadership and civic engagement, said she benefited from UNIV 101, a course offered to freshmen to aid in their adjustment to college. At UNIV 101, Roman said she was directed to passionate, helpful people.

“It’s what you’re going to do with that information,” Roman said.


Taking the town meeting discussion out of the comfort of the classroom was a solution presented by Sabrina Hull, senior community leadership and civic engagement major.

The Black Male Initiative organization was represented at the meeting by BMI President Reginald Bates, junior psychology major, who said BMI was designed for student retention by helping freshmen set their schedules. BMI encourages students to participate in social and community service with the ultimate goal of supporting them academically and helping them graduate.

“I would really recommend you guys to get involved,” Bates said. “We really need [student] support.”