Transfer talk amongst first-years shows lack of fulfillment within community



You might have heard the grumbling. Someone in your life at Guilford has probably talked openly about transferring, especially if you are a first-year student like me.

While I am not bothered too much by the comments themselves, they do indicate something boiling under the surface — I think Guilford might not be doing its best in retaining students.

“The retention rate we speak of, to be clear, is of all full-time first-year students that begin one fall (are here as of Oct. 1) and return again for the next fall (Oct. 1),” said Assistant Academic Dean for Academic Support Barbara Boyette in an email interview.

In 2008, the retention rate dipped to a 10-year low of 68 percent. The following year, the same measure spiked to 80 percent. Recent years have seen retention hover above 70 percent.

That means around 30 percent of incoming students each year are leaving, and I’m willing to bet there are plenty more students unhappy with their situations but unable to leave.

It definitely is not a black-and-white issue, as indicated by the withdrawal survey administered by Campus Life.

“From the withdrawal survey, one of the top reasons students leave is financial,” said Boyette. “Some leave for medical reasons, others for ‘fit’ or athletics.”

The right “fit” is primarily what is the most troubling.

“I thought going to Guilford — going to a small school — would create community,” said first-year Amaris Prince, who plans on transferring. “Community on campus is lacking.”

What I have found — both through on-the-record interviews and off-the-record discussions with students — is that there is disconnect between what is advertised and what students receive.

“They do a good job of telling you they don’t sell this place and then sell it,” said first-year Danny Wang.

While all tuition-funded colleges are within their right to brand themselves, no student should feel cheated. Guilford should hold an even higher standard for itself as a member of Colleges That Change Lives.

“Yes, Guilford pushes students, but what are they going to do afterward?” said Prince. “This school has no balance between academic and campus life.”

The Executive Summary of the 2012 National Survey of Student Engagement found similar results.

“Guilford students, both first-years and seniors, outperform students at our peer institutions in nearly all academic/intellectual items related to collaboration, creativity, writing, making presentations, studying and synthesizing ideas,” the summary stated. “On the other hand, Guilford students, especially first-years, are less engaged in the college’s co-curricular experiences such as student organizations and intramural sports.”

Outside the classroom, there does not seem to be much to do.

“I have two older sisters; their colleges had extra activities,” said Catalina Garcia, another first-year planning on transferring. “Here, you finish a class and you have this big gap with nothing to do.”

It bothers me to know that many great organizations and programs exist on campus. The heart of the matter is we, as a school and a community, must figure out a better way to integrate more first-year students.

If we do not address the issue, everyone loses.

“So many people leaving has totally changed the dynamic of the hall,” said first-year Chris Honein.

By his count, five people from Honein’s First Year Experience class — a living learning community — have left Guilford, impacting his daily routine and life.

The burden falls partly on administration and partly on the students themselves to come up with solutions.

On an institutional level, Guilford should look for ways to modify FYE classes. Student-run clubs should look to do a better job of announcing and putting on events.

Though I am concerned, I am confident the Guilford community can pull together and tackle the complex beast of first-year retention.