Fall retention rate inspires reflection on semester challenges


Financial District, NEW YORK— King’s retained 83 percent of first-time full-time students from the fall semester of 2012, marking an 11-point drop from the previous fall’s 94 percent retention rate.  In light of a new term, the student leaders discussed fall challenges and planned for the rest of the year. “Last semester was the most tumultuous semester I’ve ever experienced at King’s,” Thatcher scholar, Catherine Ratcliffe (’14), said. “There was the move to the Financial District, D’Souza’s resignation, Hurricane Sandy, losing the provost—hard circumstances to weather as a junior, so I can’t imagine how stressful it was for freshmen.”

Jennifer Tharp, director of Student Services, said she never talked to a student who left because of the school’s move from the Empire State Building to the Financial District, adding that she was “impressed by the students’ adaptability.”

Ratcliffe believes the new building helps the school focus on marketing its mission rather than its location alone, even though it remains in a strategic, thriving area of New York City.

Nevertheless, student body president, Sam Tran ('14), said the combination of “big changes” likely contributed to a lower semester retention rate. “It breaks my heart to see people leave— it hurts,” he said. “King’s is a place that I love, and I want other people to love it too.”

With former President Dinesh D’Souza resigning during the week of midterms and Hurricane Sandy hitting the week after, Tran believes that “in many ways, we just couldn’t get into a rhythm.”

Ratcliffe said that having school at the ESB afforded students more opportunity to meet between classes, with conveniences like dropping by The Vogue or Times Square. The commute and workplace surroundings of the FiDi can layer more difficulty onto the King’s experience, she said.

Yet Ratcliffe doesn’t view the difficulty of scheduling social time negatively: “It makes you grow up. We must emphasize to prospective students that King’s is a school that forces you to grow up first semester. We want to attract people who want to become adults.”

Students’ reasons for transitioning were consistent with past trends, according to Tharp. These reasons, including financial, academic and personal, were evenly distributed among departing students, also a past trend.

Tharp stressed the importance not simply of retention but also of persistence. She called "persistence" a complement to retention, defining it to include academic ability, will, financial ability and a sense of belonging.

“Persistence is an individual phenomenon,” she said. “Successful systems eliminate as many unnecessary road blocks as possible. We’ve designed the curriculum to be difficult but eliminate any unnecessary difficulty.”

Looking forward, Tran invites fellow Kingsians to reflect on how the campus affects community. He also invites them to bring their complaints about the school to him so that he and the Student Council can act.

Thinking about what he had learned last term, Tran said, “The first thing that came to mind was having humility. It was so easy to make judgments, particularly the week that the D’Souza event occurred.”

He also highlighted King’s accomplishments: welcoming Turkish students, hosting a blood drive, homeless outreach and students who, despite the stress of everything else, have landed prestigious internships. “I can give you a list of names of interns and their amazing internships,” he said. “We rarely talk about how King’s is, in fact, fulfilling its mission, but it is. It’s a reminder that God isn’t done with what we’re doing.”