Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

IW retention, persistence rates surpass target; enrollment grows 6 percent

President convening advisory board as student body becomes more diverse
Sep 14, 2018

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Iowa Wesleyan University is in its fourth consecutive year of growth.

The university reported a 6 percent enrollment growth this year, with 70 percent retention of students from the fall of their freshman year to fall of their sophomore year. Persistence — overall retention of students throughout their undergraduate career — is just over 69 percent, exceeding IW’s target of 63 percent persistence for the year.

“We made persistence and retention an institutional priority of the highest order,” IW President Steve Titus said. “It wasn’t a matter of just one person owning it, but as a community we are all responsible for it.”

Nikki Fennern, vice president for enrollment management, is in her fifth week at IW. During that short time, Fennern said she has really taken notice that retention, enrollment and persistence are known to be the responsibility of every person in the IW community.

“I’ve yet to see a person in our community who doesn’t embrace that fully,” Fennern said.

“(Persistence) It is a trend,” Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Meg Richtman said. “We’ve put new targets in and we’ve not only achieved them, we’ve exceeded.”

The number of international students on campus has also grown significantly. In 2013, there were only 33 international students. Today, there are 118 from 33 different countries. The retention rate of international students is 70 percent.

On Thursday, Sept. 13, U.S. News World Report released its 2019 Best Colleges Rankings. Within the report, IW was ranked No. 1 in Iowa for Ethnic Diversity. The school was noted as being the first university in the state of Iowa to be a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and is also the first and only Minority Serving Institute (MSI) in the state. Iowa Wesleyan was also ranked No. 1 in Iowa in International Students and No. 2 as a Regional Midwest College.

To meet the needs of their increasingly-diverse student body, the university is launching a National Advisory Board for Diversity and Inclusion that will broaden the conversation and create recommendations for how to serve a more diverse student body. There are 25 to 30 advisory board members ranging from Mt. Pleasant Community High School students, IW students, people of color and gender diversity. Their first meeting is in October.

“I think we’re tuned into these issues, sensitive to these issues, mindful of them, but at the end of the day we have a group of white people, heterosexual people sitting around the table trying to make decisions on human diversity,” Titus said.

The advisory board is an important first step in terms of dialogue and conversation, with the intention of putting IW resources where their intentions are, Titus said.

“As we get more culturally competent as a campus community, what implications might that bring for us? What sort of resources do we need to put in place from offices to programs to grants to professional development?” Titus said.

“We’re convening an advisory board to help us think about what staff positions should be rather than be presumptuous,” he continued. “What we want to do is have broader conversations that will help inform what we put in place.”

While it is the fourth year of consecutive growth for IW, they are in their sixth year of a comprehensive enrollment strategy, Titus said. One significant piece of the strategy is contacting high school students in their sophomore year in high school and building that relationship before they are seniors and making a decision about college.

Previously, IW had been doing a senior-search: contacting only students in their senior year of high school. Fall 2019 will be IW’s first year of full-implementation of that strategy.

“By the time they’re a senior, they’ve got those three years of touches, so you get to know the student and their family along the way,” Titus said.

IW also began a targeted effort to recruit more Iowa students. When Titus began as president at the university, under 20 Iowa students were enrolled. This year, 82 of IW’s students are from Iowa.

Investing in the student experience also became a focus of the enrollment strategy from developing a larger athletic program, creating staff positions in the dorms and opening the cafeteria from only three hours a day to continuously.

Where a part-time athletic director once ran the athletics program, a full-time athletic director is in place with a five-year vision to grow from 10 intercollegiate sports to 16 by 2022. Already, IW is at 12 sports.

Three additional online programs were added where formerly there was one. With the help of a new partner, Titus plans to continue to scale up IW’s online degrees over the next couple years. He was not yet ready to release the name of their partner in this project.

“It’s not perfect,” Titus said. “There’s no place that’s perfect and there’s a lot of opportunity for us to improve … We’ve made enormous progress and there’s a lot more work to do.”

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