Nate Muramatsu: Retention director should focus on four-year graduation rate

GW doesn’t have a typical retention problem. Ninety-three percent of freshmen choose to stay at GW for their sophomore year, which is far above the national average number of students who remain at their universities after their first years. But not all GW students graduate from the University within four years.

Twenty-one percent of GW students won’t graduate within six years or at all, according to data from College Factual. Of that 21 percent, 20 percent drop out. Officials don’t need to worry about keeping students from transferring schools, but they need to help students stay on course to graduate within four years. And that’s exactly what the University’s new director of retention, Oliver Street, should focus on.

Street should work to increase GW’s four-year graduation rate by creating opportunities for students to earn credits outside of traditional classroom settings. GW students need feasible paths to graduation if they decide to take time off.

GW’s retention team should start by creating a program for students to take time off from classes on campus without forcing them to drop out of school. For example, some existing national programs give students opportunities to perform community development and service in other countries, earning language and humanities-based credits in the process.

Many students consider taking a gap semester or gap year but feel obligated to stay at the University for fear of having to make up for lost time and credits. A credit-bearing gap semester program would make the most of tuition by allowing credits to transfer effectively.

Students may not stick around GW because they have trouble adapting to a fast-paced environment with pressure to succeed in a short amount of time. While this environment works for some people, other students may find they need time away from campus or time to pursue other passions that brought them to GW in the first place.

Students may be more likely to stay at GW in the long run after participating in a credited gap semester because they could refocus on schoolwork after a refreshing, and potentially life-changing, experience outside the classroom.

Ultimately, students at GW face pressure to take on a lot of responsibilities inside the classroom. Without the opportunity to make a student’s time away from school worthwhile, a gap semester or year can be implausible. Many more steps lie ahead for Street, but starting with opportunities for students to earn credit off campus would be helpful.

Nate Muramatsu, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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