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Retention, retention, retention: important numbers pt 2

September 1, 2011

If you work in an education department you have heard this word.  Any academic setting lives and dies by it.  The goal is just one: once we get the student in the seat, how do we keep them there?

Retention is an outcome number that is reported to our accrediting agency.  It is (arguably) the most important outcome career colleges have; second only to perhaps placement.  The amount of research that has been done on retention is mind numbing.  Truly, get on your electronic database and just run a search.  Last time I hit up EBSCO the retrieval number was over 99,000.  I wouldn’t in my whole lifetime be able to summarize it all.  So let me just sum up and highlight on a couple of points in regards to how the library can effect this ever important number.

The two big items that influence retention are; 1. academic success and 2. community.  This is oversimplifying things but it can be boiled down to this level.  Both areas offer huge potential for a library to contribute to the goal of the institution.  And I think they are obvious but let’s take a closer look anyway because it’s just fun.  🙂

1. Academic Success –

It is understood that if a student is doing well in class that it can be expected that the student will complete their program.  Obviously if a student is failing they will not graduate but more than that if a student feels like they can achieve and have success they will be motivated to do that.  If you don’t have something in your library’s mission statement about increasing student success you should.  I mean what other reason is the college library there for?  Yes we love the lofty goals of creating serendipitous research ideas but that probably isn’t what is happening in the career college.  Rightly so.  Our library exists to help the “C” student become a “B” student and for the “B” student to become the “A” student.  Bottom line – to help achieve academic success.

2. Community –

I say community here but it could be described as many things.  A place to be with friends and peers.  A place to study, a place to nap, a place to just sit.  Whatever, it provides a physical location for students to surround themselves with school.  It’s the “third space” right?  Isn’t that what we are reading about in new library news all the time?  Not the student union (more commonly known as a student lounge at my campus) but still a space where students feel like the belong somewhere.  This is a primal and basic human need.  Everyone needs and craves this.  The library can and does exists in that role.  When you feel like you are attached to something, that you belong it – you want to stay there.

The big questions come when you try to see how you can build on this.  Do you offer workshops for your students?  Programs that help solidify the library as both a place to belong and a place to find academic success?  What kind of outreach do you provide to faculty to encourage use?  What are your resources like?  What about your approachability?   All told the library can put together a pretty good case for increasing this outcome.  Think about it for a minute.  What are some numbers you could provide that would show a correlation here?  We looked at student attendance at workshops and receiving academic honors.  What can you look at?  

Interesting Reading:

Mezick, E. M. (2007, September). Return on investment: libraries and student retention. The Journal ofAcademic Librarianship , pp. 561-566.

Bean, J. P. (2003). College student retention. In e. b. Guthrie, Encyclopedia of education (pp. 401-407).New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Bell, S. (2008). Keeping Them Enrolled: How Academic Libraries Contribute to Student Retention. Library Issues, 29(1), 1-4. Retrieved from EBSCOhost

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