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Retention rates exceed goals

More Mills students are returning to campus this fall than any semester in recent memory, officials said.

The Office of Institutional Research reported that 85 percent of last year’s freshwomen returned as sophomores this fall. This exceeds the national average for women’s colleges, which is 83 percent. According to Terra Schehr, an analyst with the office, 99 of the 117 freshwoman returned this year.

Last year 78 percent of sophomores were returning Mills students. Officials are unsure of the reasons behind this shift.

“It is hard to attribute this to any one thing,” said Dean of Students Myrt Whitcomb. Student activities, increased financial aid and aggressive recruiting all may have had an impact on the college’s retention numbers.

Sophomore Lindsay Cooper attributed her decision to return to the financial aid package she received.

The amount of aid students receive, in the form of both scholarships and government aid, has increased with retention rates according to the report. In 1996 the total amount of financial aid given to Mills students was more than $10.5 million. Last year that number increased by about $1.5 million. The retention rate increased by 18 percent over the same time frame.

“We have good financial aid and that makes a big difference,” Whitcomb said.

Money is one of the reasons Liza Kuney, assistant dean of students, thinks that some students leave Mills. “The nature of women’s lives can be so complex,” Kuney said. “Money can be hard to come by and there are family obligations that often arise.”

Jadwiga Sebrechts, president of the Women’s College Coalition, said that the community on campus could make a difference. “The environment at a women’s colleges offers lots of opportunities-social, academic and athletic-that aren’t male oriented like those at coed institutions,” Sebrechts said.

“Students who make a connection on campus stay on campus,” Kuney said. She also said that the retention rate for students in athletics on campus is very high.

Shirley Weishaar, assistant dean of students in the career center, said “while it is good for students to get skills from jobs off campus, it is unfortunate if students have to work too much. There is a lot of benefit to being able to immerse yourself in school.”

The Office of Student Life has programs that are geared toward helping with students adjust to life on campus and getting them involved: Mills Life 101, an ongoing orientation program; career center workshops, which introduce students to alumnae; and first and second year deans, who act as coordinators between the classes, clubs and organizations on campus.

Weishaar said that these activities are created to help students, but may have the positive side affect of keeping students on campus.

Low student retention could be attributed to the fact that students are unsure about what institution they should attend, Sebrechts said. “It is not usual for students to plan to move to several different institutions,” she said.

The way Mills recruits new students might be partially responsible for the changes in retention. “Who is being admitted up front can make a big difference,” Whitcomb said.

Mills has changed the way it contacts prospective students. Recruitment flyers have been redesigned and perspective students receive phone calls from school representatives.