Administration looks to Greek Life to solve retention issues

Alexis Hernandez, a junior studying secondary education, considers being a sorority member as the main reason she has stayed at Wichita State.

“I think being so involved within Kappa Delta Chi, for example holding executive positions within the organization, has really developed my love for Wichita State,” Hernandez said. “If it wasn’t for joining Kappa Delta Chi, I would not like or love Wichita State as much as I do.”

Student retention is a consistent topic for colleges across the country, and Teri Hall, Wichita State’s new Vice President of Student Affairs, wants to ensure WSU keeps students like Hernandez and others.

Hall, who began working at WSU in January, believes student involvement opportunities are the primary methods for increasing retention among all students.

“I want every student at Wichita State University to have a significant connection some place on campus,” Hall said. “That could be doing research with a faculty member, it could be working in an office on campus, it could be being a member of a fraternity or sorority, it could be being in a sports club, it could be doing intramurals. I want every student to find his or her niche and that’s the overall strategy.”

From student organizations to Greek Life, WSU provides many opportunities for students to become involved on campus.

WSU Greek Life has been growing. In the fall of 2011, there were 617 students in fraternities and sororities and that number increased to 953 in the fall of 2016, according to the Office of Student Involvement.

Lyston Skerritt, Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, considers the framework of Greek organizations as being a good starting point for increasing retention.

“With Greek Life you’re looking at a model of community building,” Skerritt said. “Essentially what you have is 950 students, almost a thousand students, with 40 to 60 additional advisors checking up on their performance, checking up on how they’re doing in classes, how they’re doing personally, and so that’s essentially why it’s effective. You have more people per capita that are ensuring the success of the students, so when you talk about a model of retention, that’s what it is.”

Another strategic part of keeping students at WSU is the Retention Council, which operates through the Office of Student Success.

“There’s a lot of us in charge of retention on campus,” Kim Sandlin, Director of the Office of Student Success, said.

Forty one members serve on the Retention Council according to the Student Success website. Members range from the college deans to department chairs.

“It’s cross-divisional, so there’s someone from every division and college and operational area,” Kim Sandlin, office of student success director, said. “It’s truly a campus-wide initiative and we’re starting to include students members since the student voice hasn’t been on that council yet.”

The plan’s next step is to craft goals for retention and develop how these goals will be accomplished.

“What we’re going to do this summer is work on a strategic plan for the division of student affairs that links to the university strategic plan,” Hall said. “We’re going to all have some goals about how do we do this.”

Hall said she wants to provide more support for the college deans to better serve the students.

“For an engineering student, their way of connecting is going to be different than a liberal arts student. So how can we help with that? That’s what we do in Student Affairs; we are the connectors. So how do we use our resources to help the deans have greater connections within their colleges?” she said.

While the strategic plan is coming this summer, it is important to remember that not all retention efforts cost money and have to come from the top of the university.

“I want students to feel like they matter on our campus,” Hall said. “Smiling at somebody costs nothing and it might brighten your day, it might give you some strength to get over or go through some things that are more challenging.”

Tracking how important students feel they are to the campus provides a difficult task for the university, but Hall is determined to identify the details.

“It’s an intangible that’s hard to measure, but we’re going to figure out a way to do it,” Hall said.