Active, interested University of Maine students stay in school, says Robert Dana, UMaine’s dean of students.
Fostering student engagement is therefore important for Dana, who knows a thing or two about longevity and stability. The vice president for student life has been at the state’s flagship university for nearly three decades.
“UMaine truly is a world-class institution and student success is at the top of the priority list,” he says, adding that it’s empowering to help lead the charge for a UMaine Blue Sky Plan Pathway 2 initiative to improve annual student retention by 5 percent by fiscal year 2017.
From 2011–12, UMaine did just that. Eighty-one percent of the 2012 cohort of first-time, full-time students stayed in school. It was a 5-percent improvement from the 2011 cohort, according to the University of Maine Office of Institutional Research.
The national first- to second-year retention rate for four-year public institutions is 72.2 percent, according to ACT (2013) and the national retention rate for selective public institutions is 77.6 percent, according to Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (2013).
Dana says that UMaine President Paul Ferguson has energized this community specifically through the Blue Sky Plan and his total commitment to student success and his emphasis on our obligation to support students so they can achieve a college education. According to Dana, this orientation creates all sorts of opportunities.
Opportunities, for instance, to create “super-enriched” interconnected academic, cultural and social environments that serve as effective, durable, connected student support structures. It helps, Dana says, that all faculty and staff are “pulling in the same direction.”
He points to several recent developments intended to bolster student academic engagement and success, including the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Advising Center, the College of Education and Human Development Advising Center and the Unum Black Bear Leaders program.
Advisers, he says, provide academic guidance, personal support and resources and seek to forge authentic supportive relationships with students. The advisers understand that students are complete and complex human beings, and not just an education or engineering major, Dana says.
The Unum Black Bear Leaders program provides selected first-year students with a trained one-on-one coach, team-building activities, as well as yearlong mentoring, seminars, social events and experiences.
The retention rate of the 113 first-year students who participated in the 2011–12 Unum Black Bear Leaders program was 87 percent; 73 percent surveyed said they had gained leadership skills, life skills and knowledge by participating in the program.
Of the students who completed the program, 13 percent withdrew after the first year, compared to 31 percent of first-year students with similar characteristics who chose not to participate.
Jeffrey Hecker, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, says it’s key that the multipronged approach to improving both retention and four- and six-year graduation rates is informed by data.
Retention is affected by a number of factors, says Hecker, including affordability, quality of instruction, access to required classes and quality of residential life.
There are more than 200 campus organizations in which students can become socially and culturally engaged and connected, says Dana, whether they’re from Maine, another state or country, are a veteran and/or a nontraditional student.
Dana listed a myriad of ways that students can be a contributor and leader on campus, including through research, volunteering, Greek Life, athletics, theater, music, GLBT advocacy, recreation, the campus newspaper and student government.
“Engagement matters,” he says. “Community matters. Being truly engaged in the world around us provides us with the opportunity to realize leadership. We admit people capable of greatness. It’s true you can do anything you want…teacher, doctor, lawyer, scientist…”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777