A 17-foot blow-up screen for movies and video games on the lawn, a monthly spoken word and open mic night — those are just some of the ways Greenville Technical College is hoping to increase student engagement on its campuses.
The college is beefing up and re-branding its student activities department, which hasn’t had a director for several years, amidst a push to bring up its retention rates.
In the fall of 2016, 57% of transfer students returned to the college from the previous year, but it’s hoping to increase that rate to 59% this year.
Greenville Tech isn’t alone in its struggle to retain students — community colleges have historically lower rates of persistence (students returning each semester) and retention (students returning each school year) than traditional four-year schools. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported less than 50% of first-year students returned to their two-year schools in 2016, while four-year public schools had retention rates of higher than 70% for the same year.
Low retention is partly the nature of community colleges — with open admissions and a more transient population of students, two-year schools are less likely to retain students at the level of most four-year schools.
But Jaquetta Ross is hoping to change the atmosphere on Greenville Tech’s campus to one where students get the full college experience.
“Students need ownership and buy-in to create culture — they need to feel like the campus is theirs and that they have a say in what happens there,” Ross said. “That’s all about creating memories and creating a connection to the campus.”
Ross, who was a professor and academic advisor at Greenville Tech for six years, was named director of campus life this spring. One of her biggest goals is increasing student engagement on campus — a difficult task for a school where students don’t live on campus and often work jobs in between classes.
Ross received her bachelor’s degree Furman University and remembers what it was like being involved on campus.
“The push is not to be like a four-year college, but to be excellent on our level,” Ross said. “But I do draw some inspiration from my own experiences.”
Since students go home once they’re done with classes, the school has a shorter window of time to grab their attention.
“It definitely takes some creativity,” Ross said. “That’s part of the reason why there’s a lot of push to create programs that are going to catch them before they get to their cars, which is why I want to do everything big because it needs to be eye-catching, it needs to be alluring, it needs to be exciting.”
Ross wants the events to appeal to all students — from video game competitions to forums on politics — and to keep regular momentum throughout the college’s four primary campuses.
“I don’t think you have to force them to engage,” Ross said. “You have to create the opportunity, and if you create the opportunity for what they want to see, they’ll come.”