by Kelly Burns & Kieran Rock
The Manhattan College website currently lists the freshman to sophomore year retention rate at 89 percent. William Clyde, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President, believes this is the highest retention rate in history.
“As far as I know…the school had never been to 88 percent. We went to 88 percent twice” Clyde said. “The class of 2019 retained at 89. Manhattan has always had good retention.We have always been in the 80’s,” Clyde said.
The average rate of retention from first to second year for private institutions is 70.2 percent nationally, according to U.S. News. This means Manhattan’s current rate is well above average in its ability to retain its students, a number that Clyde says is “enviable.”
The retention rate is high for a reason. Manhattan has two committees that serve opposite ends of the retention discussion. Clyde and Richard Satterlee, Ph.D., vice president of student life, chair the Retention Committee. The committee meets once a month and has nearly 30 members.
“The retention committee is made up of all the deans, all of the assistant deans, Rani [Roy], Marissa [Passafiume], folks from student life, Anne Vaccaro…basically all the people who know data about retention and all the people who can do something about it,” Clyde said.
Often the student voice is lacking, Clyde said, and he encourages student participation in the process.
“We would like to have students in the room. Over the years we have had students, but generally have been unsuccessful.”
The retention committee reviews data and proposes solutions to various campus offices about what they can implement in order to increase student satisfaction at the college. Clyde said many of those proposals have been implemented.
“The very first year I was here, there was NSSE data….We realized that students didn’t feel like their interaction with faculty was at a high level. They didn’t feel like their sense of the surrounding was what we were hoping it would be. They didn’t feel like they were getting diverse experiences, like talking to people who didn’t sound like themselves…and they weren’t doing service as the same level as other institutions. They also didn’t feel like they were getting the tutoring support,” Clyde said.
“As a result of all of that we created the Arches. If you look at the goals of the Arches, they are a higher level of student faculty engagement than even our other courses, cultural experiences and service experiences out in the city,” Clyde said.
Along with the Arches, the attention paid to tutoring service on campus also grew out of recommendation by the retention committee. The Multicultural center was similarly a recommendation of the retention committee in recognition of the need to serve a diverse population of students, according to Clyde.
“There have been many initiatives, each one arising from analysis of data that identifies specific needs one of the populations we are serving and the initiative is meant to address that issue,” he said.
The retention committee also seeks to uphold the Lasallian mission of Manhattan College.
“This is very Lasallian. It is very mission related. The Lasallian mission is about meeting students where they are and meeting their needs. Each population has different needs,” Clyde said.
“Our mission is to serve underserved populations, a diverse population. If you recruit them but don’t give them the tools to success, you’re not serving them. In fact, you could think you’re setting them up for failure.”
The retention committee is one of two committees that address these student specific questions. The other is the enrollment committee headed by Dr. William Bisset, Vice President of Enrollment Management. Retention, recruiting and enrollment are all closely related projects.
The Class of 2019- which was retained at such a high level- was also a larger class than anticipated.
“We look to bring in a class of 820 to 830 new freshmen each year,” Bisset said. “When we had modeled for [the class of 2019], in terms of the way we were making our admissions offers and the way we were developing our financial aid and scholarship models, we were expecting a class of about 840,” he said.
The admissions office converted a higher number of students than expected that year, which Bisset said was fine. “We were able to accommodate that class, but we didn’t set out that year to enroll 900 students,” he said. “We just happened to have a higher number take us up on our admissions offer.”
The next year Bisset and the admissions department intentionally designed and modeled for a smaller class for the class of 2020.
Andrew Weingarten, the Director of Residence Life, said that his office was able to accommodate the larger class of 2019 without a problem. “We have to be ready for that scenario. We do that by planning and forecasting and keeping an eye on the numbers,” he said.
Weingarten said there are various factors that can be adjusted, such as the number of single rooms on campus and the offers of housing to graduate students, in order to give priority to undergraduate students.
Bisset said that admissions still aims to enroll a class of around 820 to 830 students. “We feel that, number one: we won’t be jeopardizing our admissions standards by bringing in classes of that size. Number two: we can meet our mission related goals and objectives to the way in which that class is shaped,” he said.
The size of the class factors into the strain on campus resources and the use of those resources, both Clyde and Bisset said, were a major factor in the rise in retention rates.
“Classes of that size allow us, for instance in terms of housing needs, keep our residential facilities at 100 percent occupancy, but not 110 percent,” Bisset said.