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DSU retention increases, enrollment projected to increase

DSU's retention rate has increased from 54% in 2015 to 71% in 2017.(Submitted graphic)

As the number of students enrolling at Dickinson State University is projected to increase, more and more students who enroll at the university are staying there.

Carmen Wilson, provost and vice president of academic and student affairs, addressed DSU faculty and staff at a forum last week regarding the university's enrollment projections.

"We are 20% up in acceptances as compared to this time last year," she said. "Last year at this time, compared to the year before, we were actually a bit down, so this is very good news. We're up 70 acceptances — that's completed applications — as of April. Last year, we converted 65% of applications. The year before that, it was 62%."

Wilson said they are conservatively estimating an increase of 100 students for the 2019-2020 academic year.

To attract potential students, DSU has added programs and sports including junior varsity sports and esports, as well as academic programs through its dual-mission, such as new certificates, associate degrees and master's degrees.

However; as DSU President Thomas Mitzel told the staff, "Bringing in extra students does not help if they do not stay."

Fortunately for the university, its retention rate has been steadily increasing since 2015.

"If we look at our retention, in 2014 it was 57%; 2015 it was at a low of 54%. ... We were really hoping at this time to be in the mid-60s, and in 2017, we hit 71% retention rate. ... This number is fairly phenomenal, and I hope it continues to go up, and it should continue to go up," Mitzel said.

To increase retention, Wilson said they are focusing on building community and a sense of belonging. They have made major changes to the student center, including the new dining facility and entertainment area, The Perch, and adding esports stations.

They're working toward building a community in the residence halls.

"When I first got here, the occupancy in our residence halls was about 41%, so we're working to increase that because if you're in a not even half full residence hall, it's not a great sense of community. We did shut a residence hall to help with the occupancy rate and then we remodeled one floor of Woods Hall," Wilson said.

They have centralized services for student ease.

"We have created a one-stop shop where students can get the majority of their questions answered — that would be things like how do I drop a class, how do I apply to graduate, what about financial aid," Wilson said. "We also have co-located all of our student services into one area called the student opportunity and resource center, or SOAR Center. That includes tutoring, advising, student affairs, career services."

Mitzel said part of the increase is due to faculty and staff.

"Much of that is the attention that you show to your students, not just the faculty but the staff, making them feel welcome here, answering their questions when they have them, pushing them when they don't want to be pushed but knowing that they're being pushed for a good reason," Mitzel said during the forum.

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