Campus Seeks to Reverse Dropout Trend

Jae Yoo

Two years ago, Dr. Nancy Knight, vice president of college services at GCC, was concerned about the increasing rate of students failing to return to campus each semester and was determined to do something to reverse the trend.

Knight’s vision was the springboard for the Retention Program launched last spring.

Its mission was to find out why students had not returned, and to help those who wanted to get back on track meet their academic goals.

“Of course, some [students] don’t come back because they’ve successfully transferred,” said Susan Borquez-Dougherty, who is the Student Services Coordinator-Retention. “However, most students do not [transfer]. Our focus is for those students who drop out to stay in school.”

A recent survey conducted by Research and Retention tracked responses of 606 of the 4,809 students who had left GCC in the spring of 1999. Of those who responded, 159 students had completed their goal or had moved. Of the remaining 447 students, 60 percent did not return because of scheduling problems, 34 percent because of family and health issues, 22 percent because of parking issues, another 22 percent because of things such as the “unfriendliness of people” on campus, and 20 percent due to financial difficulties (some responded positively to more than one question).

“Over 70 to 80 percent of the calls [from the office of Retention Services] to students don’t do anything,” said Alina LaManna, 20, one of Borquez-Dougherty’s three assistants. “Most students already have their minds set and don’t come back.”

Donna Langford, 41, did not return the following semester after attending GCC in the fall of 1999. She responded to a call from LaManna, telling the student worker that she had dropped out because of surgery. “I assisted her with information this semester and she’ll enroll in the second nine-week [session],” said LaManna.

One student had dropped all her units because of the bus strike. Another non-returning student turned out to be a Cal State Northridge student, who had taken one math class the previous semester. One had difficulties with his classes, while another was an international student who returned to Japan.

The office of Retention Services does more than just keep tabs on who has not returned. It also focuses on outreach and intervention for existing students. Such efforts include making tuition reminder calls, welcome and information letters to new students, outreach calls and letters to students who have dropped all their units, and Early Alert follow-up calls to students that are at risk of failing a course.

“We’re reaching out to lost students, and to existing students to prevent them from dropping out,” said Borquez-Dougherty. “Feedback from students tells us that we are accomplishing what we want,” she said. “They’re really glad that we notice they’re gone.”