Turning Points | Photo by Jessica Fugett | The Wright State Guardian
Wright State University (WSU) is currently engaged in a retrenchment process that seeks to cut up to 113 excess faculty positions in an effort to adjust the number of faculty needed to support a dwindling population of students, one that is anticipated to persist.
“Over the last four years we have seen our enrollment decline from nearly 18,000 students, to 15,000, to 13,000, to 12,000 students,” former Interim Provost Douglas Leaman said.
Turning the tide
In an effort to turn the tide on these dwindling numbers, and to garner the attention of not only high school students in the Dayton region, but those wishing to pursue a college degree anywhere in the world, WSU has developed a committee dedicated to admitting students into the Raider community, and retaining them.
“I’m sure you’ve heard the president [Dr. Sue Edwards] talk about this, but the three R’s are of the utmost importance,” WSU Associate Vice Provost Tim Littell said. “The three R’s of course are retention, recruitment and relationships. I love that because it’s simplistic and true. Our relationships are all we have right? It’s you and I, it’s faculty and staff and it’s everyone involved in the process. Relationships are what allow recruitment and retention to work.”
Currently, Littell is co-chair of WSU’s recruitment and retention working group.
“It’s a cross-sectional group made up of members of faculty and staff, some really great engaged folks,” Littell said.
Littell said that he is focused mainly on the retention side of operations in the working group, while his fellow co-chair and WSU Interim Chief of Recruitment and Admissions Officer Jennifer McCamis is dedicated to recruitment efforts.
“Our working group was charged with putting together a structure and framework in which we can start to put together these disparate things we are doing as an institution to attack these recruitment and retention outcomes,” Littell said.
Campus completion plan
Littell detailed the WSU Campus Completion Plan; a detailed set of board approved documents that lists 22 items that represents WSU’s strategic initiatives targeted to enhance student learning, progress and degree completion at the university.
“In many ways, I call this our retention plan,” Littell said.
The WSU Campus Completion Plan includes 22 priorities distributed amongst six key areas.
Academic support, curricular redesign, advising pathways, career planning, student engagement & support and lastly data-informed & integrated technology comprise the six key areas outlined in the completion plan.
“This plan is a two year plan, which we implemented last fall,” Littell said. “One of our key goals is to look at equity gaps. These are underrepresented students who fare less than their white counterparts. What is it we can do to be more intentional about bringing programs and services to them?”
Another focus for WSU over the last decade has been to reform developmental education, which allows students to experience a faster graduation time and hopefully improve the number of students retained at the university.
“Prior to semester conversions, a student may spend a year or even two years taking developmental courses in either math or english before they are even qualified to be taking college level classes. All the while, they are trying to take college level classes in the gen-ed core. It was a total disaster,” Littell said.
An example of WSU’s developmental reform is allowing all new Raiders to take a college level English class. If the student doesn’t place into the college level English class, that student will be placed in a developmental English class as a corequisite rather than a prerequisite to the college level course.
According to Littell, allowing students to take these two courses at the same time has been beneficial in retaining students and has simultaneously increased course completion rates.
“This has increased our completion rates of college level math and English substantially, because students see the gain of taking it at the same time. Prerequisite classes may be seen as low priority, but when you take it at the same time as your college level class, you see the immediate benefit,” Littell said. “Essentially it decreases the time they have to spend in college, and the amount of money they will spend as well.”
“Tim Littell has been absolutely critical in the establishment of student retention teams and efforts to increase the amount of students retained at this university,” Faculty President Dr. Laura Leuhrmann said.
Leuhrmann said that the ability for faculty to communicate the needs of students in remote learning has played a pivotal role in student success and retention since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March of last year.
“If a student shares with me that they don’t have the right devices or technology to complete their work in this remote format, we’ve been able to help them and I think that’s huge,” Leuhrmann said.
Additionally, the WSU Faculty Senate was awarded $50,000 in funding for faculty led retention and recruitment programs.
“These were awarded right before the pandemic, so this project has now had to be extended for a year because almost all of the programs involved bringing groups to campus for recruitment, and the retention programs all had to be modified to account for remote delivery methods,” Leuhrmann said.
Leuhrmann believes retention is where faculty can play the biggest role in fostering the university’s retention efforts.
“It’s much more clear on the retention side of things because as faculty that’s where we connect with our students, making sure they are completing courses and really fostering those relationships with the Raider community,” Leuhrmann said.
In terms of recruitment, Leuhrmann is optimistic about the $5 million that will be devoted to marketing campaigns for the university over the next two years.
“It’s fun seeing Wright State ads and hearing about Wright State over the radio,” Leuhrmann said. “We’ve also seen an emphasis during the Edwards administration on deepening our connections with Sinclair Community College, Clark State Community College and to some degree Edison Community College. These are all vital in creating connections for potential transfer students as well.”