Retention Pilot Takes Off to Keep Students in Class

Michael Konigsberg
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Students at GCC may be interested to know that someone is looking over their shoulders. Susan Borquez-Dougherty of Student Retention Services is watching their every move. to class.

Since the Student Retention Pilot debuted in October, Borquez-Dougherty has worked toward returning students to their seats in class when absences multiply.

Attendance regularly falters at the start of each semester, due either to student illness or to neglect. Too many students are also not aware that the consequence for opting out of a class without dropping is an “F” grade on their transcripts.

College administration is concerned about “persistence,” or the percentage of students reenrolled from one semester to another. Of 15,480 student enrolled in any units last spring, 9,217 returned in the fall – representing a spring-to-fall persistence rate of 59.5 percent. The fate of the remaining 41.5 percent is what worries the college.

According to Edward Karpp, Director of Institutional Research at GCC, many who don’t return have either completed their educational goals or plan to return another semester.

Student Retention Services was created in February to research the conditions for persistence and to keep students in their intended courses of study.

Working with faculty, now numbering 17, Borquez-Dougherty is given names of students who miss more than two class meetings at any time throughout a semester to preempt the possibility of drop-outs and hopefully reverse any trend.

She or one of her student interns calls the students at home to find out the reason for the absences and their plans for returning to class. The sooner Retention Services can intervene after a timely referral, the more effectively a student can be returned to his intended course of study.

“It’s a worthwhile program,” Borquez-Dougherty said. “It doesn’t take much effort from the faculty, and students are generally grateful.”

Business student Scot Sacks agrees that the pilot should prove effective, since many students coming from high school don’t realize how much one’s grade depends upon y attendance. “Students wouldn’t realize the benefit until they were to miss the semester’s [first class meetings],” Sacks said.

Students enrolled in eight-week classes may particularly benefit from the retention efforts. Often, they lose track of these later start dates. Robert Holmes, A member of GCC’s Board of Trustees and instructor of an online accounting course, said that students underestimate the amount of work required of them in online courses. Three or four absences may translate to a painful catch-up period.

Extending the human touch is intended to maintain a student population that feels good about being in school here. Personal contact with the administration has proven to be the best student retention tool, according to researchers.
“Our enrollment is already good and growing,” said Dougherty. “As corny as it sounds, we really just want students to stay in school and be successful.”