By Dakota Cantwell
Missouri Valley College is an institution that asserts to all students, current and future, that it assists them in succeeding in a knowledge-based society, but despite these intentions, the college is struggling to keep students enrolled through graduation.
With the national average retention rate for full time, first time students being 70.2 percent, MoVal is behind with only an average 58.89 percent of full time, first time students being kept over the last 5 years.
MVC President Bonnie Humphrey said that struggles with retention rate are not new to the campus.
“We’ve been working on this and talking about things ever since I got here,” said Humphrey. “It’s an issue at lots of private small schools, but it’s an issue here I think because we have a lot of first generation students; more than a lot of our colleagues in the Heart of America conference.”
Identifying problems is the first step solving any situation and MoVal has begun to take those steps in the form of strategic plans being formed by different committees on campus.
“Part of the situation is we’re still in the middle of Missouri. In the middle of a small town and kids get home sick. They come from a city, they’re used to more activity, they don’t really want to drive two hours to Kansas City or three hours to Saint Louis and so that’s part of the problem,” Humphrey said.
International Student Coordinator Thomas Merlot agrees with Humphrey about the location being a problem.
“There’s not much we can do about it, because if you ask a student and you ask hey ‘how can I make your life better?’ Yeah well Marshall’s not good.” Merlot finds this to be an impossible task because of the inability to change Marshall.
Humphrey adds that cost is a factor for many of the students who leave the college before they graduate.
“Part of it is cost and we’ve done the best we can on that as well, because we’re frozen this year same as last year.” Humphrey said.
Tim Dixon, the head women’s basketball coach, finds MoVals attempts to maintain costs to be excellent.
“The things that the school’s been doing in regards to keeping cost down is phenomenal. Everywhere else has raised, and we’ve only raised 900 bucks in three years,” Dixon said.
Recruitment among the athletic department is often a topic of discussion in regards to MoVal’s retention rate. The number of students brought to MoVal by the athletic program is a large contributing factor to the overall student population.
This can be viewed as a good thing, but is also seen as a bad thing by some with the big concern being over-recruitment by coaches.
“I think they said around 100 freshman were brought in,” said Jake Bridges, who plays on the football team. “Which they say is around (how many) each year. There’s usually around 200 football players each year.”
Shelby Acklin, who played on the women’s basketball team, describes a similar situation.
“We had 18 to 20 returners and then there were probably 35 to 40 new girls recruited,” she said.
Acklin explained that only five girls play on the court at a time and that there’s typically 12 to 15 players on the rosters at a time.
“So that’s like 35 people and we have around 60,” she said. “So I definitely think that’s a lot of the reason that a lot of the girls left was because there were three teams and they were not getting to play.”
Bridges confirms that many students tend to leave the team at semester.
“This is just my first semester, but they say at semester a lot of them will leave and quit to go play football,” he said. “They just feel that they don’t have a chance to play here.”
Dixon explained that recruiting at least 20 students is standard for coaches at MoVal.
“They ask us to get 20 every year and so we’ve gone above and beyond that these last two years. Mainly because we’ve had a larger scholarship pot of money we can give from,” he said, adding “Twenty is about where every coach is at to some degree.”
Raviel Burton, who played on the men’s basketball team discounted the notion that recruitment was a problem to the program.
“It’s not really over recruiting,” he said. “It’s preparation and trying to have as much backup as you can.”
Dixon says that the number of students who can play versus the number of students recruited is not the only factor involved in why athletic students leave the college.
“Last year we had a lot of freshmen leave and so we had to recruit another 40 this year to replace the kids that graduated, didn’t come back for whatever reason: too far away from home, cost too much to stay here, lack of playing time,” he said. “This school is taking active steps to remedy that. We can’t continue to recruit 40 kids every year and this year I think we’ll have a lot of kids stay.”
Bridges agrees with Dixon that the number of recruits is not a significant factor in the low retention rate.
“They’re really harsh about keeping up with your grades because that seems like one of the biggest reasons why players leave or drop out,” he said.
The athletic program at MoVal puts a heavy emphasis upon the academic side of a student’s time at the college.
“All coaches get grade checks and attendance records. So we just kind of monitor that and make sure everybody is doing well,” Dixon said.
Dixon said that one of the biggest things he did to help students succeed academically was to institute a mandatory study hall for the athletes on his team.
“The incentive is in the fall semester if they have a certain GPA then they don’t have to come back to study hall in the spring semester,” he said.
The student athletes find the study hall to be good assistance with their school work.
“Yeah, it helps,” said Burton. “You pretty much tend to do what you have to do when you’re forced to do what you have to.”
Humphrey does find athletic students that leave to be a factor in the retention rate, but not one more significant than others.
“Kids come to a small private school to participate. To work immediately in the radio station. To work immediately in the television station, because at the big schools you don’t get in it until you’re a junior or a senior and the same goes for the athletics,” Humphrey said. “They come here because they love the sport, they were good at it, they want to get an education and they want to play. So that’s going to be a problem for a while.”
Dixon finds that recruiting as many students as they do is not a problem so long as they recruit the right students. He believes that focusing on who the student is will make a significant improvement upon keeping the students despite playtime.
“For us, we usually identify good students and then we try to find the character second,” Dixon said. “That plays into a lot of good things for us, if they’re good character kids. If they’re not playing as much then they can fall back on character values that their parents of other coaches taught them.”
Humphrey said that MoVal is constantly working to better the experience for students on campus.
“Some of the first things we did were to work on the deferred maintenance and update the residence facilities,” Humphrey said. “We opened The Learning Center years ago to be able to give kids the opportunity for free tutoring and things like that.”
MoVal has continued over the year to help students achieve success while having a great college experience. One of the college’s newest attempts is working toward change to the academic advising program.
“We’ve started dealing primarily with freshman and sophomore students for their scheduling and we’ve done that based on majors,” said Retention Specialist Jada Hollinshead. This means that each faculty member assisting with this program will deal with a specific set of majors. “What we’re trying to do is prevent students from essentially wasting their time on courses that they didn’t need.”
Humphrey agreed with Hollinshead about the new program’s purpose.
She also added, “This year we’re working to do a freshman/sophomore counseling center so that by the time you’re a junior you go to your major adviser and then the major advisers have more time to spend with you.”
The strategic planning that occurred this semester at MoVal offered a chance for students to voice their opinions about what would help the college succeed, and what that means, over the next five years. This is not the first time that strategic planning has been used at MoVal.
“Most of the things that usually come from strategic plans is things like improvement in instructional services, improvements in student services, improvements in physical housing, improvements in employment services for the people that work here,” Humphrey said. “And all of these things then are a positive impact on the services the students get.”
It will take time to see if the steps that MoVal are currently taking will cause drastic change in the retention, but Humphrey stands that she is happy with MoVal and will continue to work to make it the best place that it can be for students.
“I’m just really proud of who we are. I’m proud of the fact we have first generation kids. I’m proud of the fact we’re very diverse,” she said. “We’ve got our issues and we continue to work with those, but I do think we’ve developed a very positive campus culture.”