by Zoe Sarvis, staff writer
The buzz at the beginning of the year swarms around new crew assignments, living arrangements, what’s happening at Sage circle, and who is next to leave.
As the new students stampeded into the Sunderland and Vining dormitories, some roommates found themselves living in a single within just a few weeks.
Though it is a shock to many new students when new friends and roommates leave the college so soon, this is normal for most schools according to Carol Howard, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, who has taken on the issue of retention at the college.
Even though the issue seems to be a trending topic within conversations on campus, the reasons for this are unclear, according to Howard.
“We’re about average in terms of freshmen retention, we want to be better than average,” said Howard. “We have only lost two students so far this semester.”
Warren Wilson’s retention rate is now sitting at 68%. Our lowest ever was 62% and our high was in the seventies.
While some may perceive a lower retention rate than the one currently recorded, the prediction is that 10 to 15 students may leave by the end of the semester.
“I am a little bit homesick, but that’s to be expected, so as far as being introduced to the college experience, it’s pretty typical,” said Isabelle Romano, a freshman who plans to leave the college next year.
When freshmen decide to leave the college, the administration asks them before they go why they chose to leave. Many students who leave claim that they want to be closer to home. This is a natural reaction for most people adapting to a new place, according to Dan Seeger, Director of Student Activities.
“It’s really common for any student at any college campus to run into doubts,” Seeger said. “It’s a major change that somebody is going through. If a student doesn’t feel at home, that would be when they would leave relatively early.”
Warren Wilson advertises to prospective students with the motto of: “We’re not for everyone, but then, maybe you’re not everyone.” Romano expressed that for those who are having a hard time feeling at home, this could make them start to feel the pressure from the school and the student body to either fit in or get out.
“I know that was the marketing campaign for the school for a while, but when you’re told that, and you’re thinking about leaving, it’s really not a welcoming thing,” said Romano.
Those working with the incoming freshman try to cater to the mindset that most new students will be arriving with.
“Even though we pride ourselves on being a school that doesn’t have fraternities, and doesn’t have sororities, or that football culture, a lot of people go to big schools and they have that community there, but students still come here wanting that instant oatmeal community,” says Khaetlyn Grindell, who worked in admissions over the summer.
Wilson attracts a certain person that fits into the Wilson culture, but sometimes maybe the community is almost too tight that it appears unwelcoming, Romano suggests.
“There is an attitude about Warren Wilson kids,” she said. “I think it’s intimidating for freshmen trying to find themselves.”
During orientation, the school tries to introduce freshmen into the community by expressing to them all the ways they can be active and find their niche. The activities they set up were designed so that those not interested in hiking, for example, could do arts and crafts, or enjoy a movie.
“Our challenge is that community means something a little different to everybody,” Seeger said. “I think if somebody is having trouble getting connected, if they come in thinking this place is all about community, then it feels more problematic to them because it’s not what they expected it to be.”
The college also tries to express to the prospective students that this school is hard work. Not only do they have to excel in academics, but students are also expected to work 15 hours and serve the community, which are added responsibilities for students.
“We really need to focus our marketing on the fact that this is an intense liberal arts college, and if that’s not where you want to be, I hope we send you the message to pause,” said Howard.
Some freshmen and transfers that came in the fall felt the chaotic world of Wilson for the first time, and some were taken back by it.
“Getting into classes was really bad, and my summer advising was really messy,” said Louise DeCramer, a student who transferred this year. “I didn’t feel like people who talked to me really had the time to talk to me to give me good advising.”
In addition, DeCramer also felt some disappointment upon her arrival, thinking that the school had fallen short of her preconceived notions that the college would be a particularly radical institution.
“It seems like there are a lot of pretty radical students here but I don’t see a lot of radical methods happening in the classroom,” said DeCramer. “I bet the faculty could stretch to experiment the different forms of education and accommodate different forms of learning mostly through giving students more freedom.”
In light of the lower retention rates of the past, the school has tried to improve the orientation process for freshmen and transfers, so that they better inform new students of the reality of Warren Wilson.
“If you can’t find your place here you need to make your place here,” said Seeger.
The school is working with students to help them decide if they want to be here, if they should be here, and to help them and the administration understand why they feel otherwise.
“Yeah I would love to see the numbers higher,” said Howard, “but the bigger issue for me is are we retaining the students who can really thrive here, are we retaining in a way that’s consistent with our educational mission. That’s the bottom line.”