UWRF plans to unveil new online tool to improve first-year student retention

Posted February 18, 2019

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls has had a consistent retention rate of about 75 percent, meaning about 25 percent of first-year students leave campus before their second academic year starts.

Even though UWRF’s retention rate is higher than the national average of 62 percent, the goal for the next few years is to get the rate up to 78.5 percent, said Provost David Travis. And that, he said, will take a lot of work.

“What you’re really trying to target there are a lot of first-generation students that when they hit some challenges might not have the experience and the support network at home and they may give up too easy,” Travis said. “So we’re trying to capture those students as well as all the others, of course, and give them the extra support so they don’t give up.”

Students leave a college campus for a variety of reasons: poor academic standing, mental health issues, financial pressures, or just not finding the right major that they want to study.

But there are also many reasons why students decide to stay after their first year. Sarah Nelson, the executive director of Admissions & New Student and Family Programs, mainly focuses on the different strategies to get future students interested and to help first-year students feel welcome and included on campus.

Her office coordinates various events, such as Week of Welcome (WOW), that are hosted before schools starts to get students acclimated to campus life.

“Helping students know what those campus resources are, where and how to access them is really critical but I think it’s also the start to helping students find their community or find their fit and their place on campus,” Nelson said.

Although there has been active and positive feedback from events like WOW, many first-year students say that academic advising through their first two semesters at UWRF has not been consistent enough, Travis said.

One response to this problem will be introduction of a new online advising tool. Education Advisory Board’s program Navigate is an advising-focused application that students and faculty will be available to use on their mobile phones. Students will be able to rate how they are feeling daily, give comments about how the school is doing, and schedule appointments with advisors, as well as plan important dates throughout a their college path.

Travis said that this new way of tracking how students are doing will be more consistent and will not only help faculty gauge their students’ academic, social or mental standing, but be able to help identify struggling students early on to get them the help they need.

“It will be a change because it will require students to help us understand how they’re doing,” Travis said. “I believe students will be very responsive to this but there is also a line of privacy that we need to find before we launch it.”

Navigate is expected to launch by fall 2019 with the freshman class.

First-year communications majors Natalie Rodgers and Sophia Forliti say that campus life has been a great experience and they both plan on coming back next semester. The resources that UWRF has to offer have given them lots of opportunities to better themselves and make connections with others, the two students said.

“The community that I both found with peers and also the academic and professional setting have been really awesome,” Rodgers said. “I feel like it’s so easy to make friends and get involved with events and clubs since it is such a small community.”