In 2007, when California Lutheran University (CLU) campus leaders noticed a drop in freshman return rates, they charged me with serving as CLU’s retention champion. As the first director of retention, I felt a responsibility to develop a retention program that would uphold the university’s commitment to inclusive inquiry.
Although CLU first used the “r” word on campus in 2007, I would argue that the university’s retention efforts have been underway for decades, if not centuries. Part of a 500-year-old tradition of Lutheran education, CLU encourages critical inquiry from its entire population, including students, faculty, and staff. This culture fosters critical thinking and exploration.
With roughly 3,700 students enrolled at CLU – 2,200 undergraduate and 1,500 graduate – I recognized the need for a comprehensive retention program that would capture student needs and challenges across the entire campus to keep them all on the road to graduation.
Over the past five academic years, we raised CLU freshman retention rates from 78 percent to almost 83 percent. Throughout these years we learned that increased retention depends on motivation, perseverance, and a strategic plan with clear improvement goals. Our success is fueled by the following hybrid approach.
Multiple power sources
Although I lead CLU’s retention efforts, retention must be addressed by a number of campus departments in order to generate significant results. For example, while the residential life team works to foster an inclusive on-campus community, the faculty develops academic programs that motivate students.