Small campuses focus on retaining students with the help of technology

Paul Smith’s College saw retention rise by 12 percent last year.

An Arizona community college and a New York campus with 1,000 students are using technology embraced by large research universities to stem alarming drops in student retention, especially among freshmen and sophomores.

Helping new college students – many away from home for the first time – stay in school through the sometimes-difficult transition from high school hallways to the campus dorm has long been a goal of colleges and universities.

Following the advice of a task force created to address falling retention rates, University of Kansas decision makers adopted software last year that would identify at-risk students with low grades and spotty attendance records who are not engaged in campus activities.

Now, at least two smaller colleges have joined Kansas as well.

Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, Ariz., with an enrollment of about 15,000, has many new students in need of basic English courses – a requirement that calls for early intervention before students’ grades plummet and they leave school.

And Paul Smith’s College, a private campus of 1,000 students in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, had seen its freshmen-to-sophomore and sophomore-to-junior retention rates stay steady at a five-year average of 62 percent before campus officials took action.

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