Use synergy to build learning opportunities

This article is part of series highlighting synergy at Guilford and areas where we need to grow as an institution.

In the midst of a financial crisis, low enrollment and low retention, Guilford needs to collaborate now more than ever. Everybody at the school plays an important role as President Jane Fernandes seeks to stabilize the situation and position Guilford for a better future.

The question is, what can we do to help Guilford survive and grow? What would attract more students and retain them?

Two specific things we can do include structuring our majors to be mission-driven and connecting them to experiential learning. Research shows this would increase enrollment and retention rates.

A college that has proven that this works is Wegner College. From 2010 to 2013 they were able to increase enrollment by 50 percent and retention from 76 percent to 81 percent. This retention rate contrasts with the current national average of 69.4 percent and Guilford’s  retention rate of 71 percent.

What caused this? How do they attract and retain students?

According to Wegner College Provost Lily McNair, the  key is to find out what questions students are looking to answer, then prepare them to tackle those questions.

Wegner College has prepared students by connecting them to mission-driven majors based on service learning and problem-solving education, which increases students’ engagement. The top of their strategic plan remains connecting the classroom with experiential learning.

“The best approaches (to higher education) are those that have a range of opportunities,” said Kyle Dell, associate professor of political science. “For example, classroom and research opportunities are all opportunities that are played off of one another. If you only have one of those, you are losing out.”

Dell is part of the group that is working on creating a sustainable food systems major.

The new major would intentionally connect the classroom with experiential learning.  It will connect the Guilford Farm, the campus farmer’s market, the mobile market, food deserts in the community and the classroom.

By connecting all the above, Guilford would seek to find solutions to issues such as food insecurity.

Why here and now?

Because Greensboro is ranked number one in food insecurity in the United States, we have a perfect scenario to do something meaningful now.

“Given a real need in the community, we have extra motivation to do what we are doing — this is a problem-based education,” said Dell.

How does this relate to increasing enrollment, retention and eliminating our debt? The answer is simple. Synergy among the classroom and experiential learning leads to higher retention.

Higher retention leads to consistent revenue. Consistent revenue, if it is higher than expenditures, leads to financial stability.

Now the question is, how does synergy among the classroom and experiential learning lead to higher retention?

“Students who are actively involved in learning activities and spend more time on task, especially with others, are more likely to learn and, in turn, more likely to stay,” said Vicent Tinto, Professor at Syracuse University and retention expert in an article for Campus Compact.

What’s next for us? As President Fernandes creates a strategic plan, it is important that she consider the above.

Greensboro is the perfect place to connect all sorts of majors to experiential learning, including language, education, business, religion, health and more.

We can use the sustainable food systems approach to incorporate experiential learning into the different majors. The point is not to just create experiential learning classes, but to create mission-driven majors with experiential learning components.

How do we connect them? We have three amazing vehicles to do it: a world class faculty, a Center for Principled Problem Solving and the Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning.

By creating synergy in the classroom with experiential learning, we can help stabilize Guilford and position it for a better future.

Next week’s article will look at some of the obstacles that prevent us from building synergy.