Many colleges speak of the importance of increasing student retention. Many even invest substantial resources in programs to achieve that end. Witness, for instance, the growth of the freshman seminar. Some institutions even go so far as to hire retention consultants who promise significant gains in retention if only you use their programs. But while many colleges have adopted a variety of programs to enhance retention, most programs are add-ons that are marginal to the academic life of the institution. Too many colleges have adopted what Parker Palmer calls the “add a course” strategy. Need to address the issue of diversity? Add a course in diversity studies. Need to address the success of new students? Add a freshman seminar. Need to address student retention? Bring in a consultant and establish a committee or office charged with that responsibility. The result is a growing segmentation of services for students into increasingly autonomous fiefdoms whose functional responsibilities are reinforced by separate budget and promotion systems. Therefore, while it is true that retention programs abound on our campuses, most institutions, in my view, have not taken student retention seriously. They have done little to change the way they organize their activities, done little to alter student experience, and therefore done little to address the deeper roots of student attrition. As a result, most efforts at enhancing student retention, though successful to some
degree, have had more limited impact than they should or could.