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Press Release: Educators Discuss Ways to Keep Students in School at Pace University’s 2nd Annual Retention Conference


Press Release: Educators Discuss Ways to Keep Students in School at Pace University’s 2nd Annual Retention Conference

Students who complete a college degree will earn an average of $20,000 a year more to start than those who only complete some college.

That was one of the many facts that educators from across the region learned when they gathered on June 15th for Pace University’s second annual Retention Conference: “Student Success and Persistence to Graduation.” More than 200 educators from 32 public and private colleges shared best practices on how to keep students from dropping out of school at the conference hosted by Pace University’s Office of the Provost. Among the schools attending were Mercy College, Temple University, Lehman College CUNY, St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican College, Manhattanville College, the College of New Rochelle, California State University, Fresno and the College of Mount Saint Vincent. The day included keynote and luncheon presentations as well as breakout sessions and a closing round table discussion.

Pace University President Marvin Krislov, J.D., one of the day’s keynote speakers, said colleges needed to try harder to make students feel welcome and to connect them to resources to help them stay in school.

Nationally, only 60 percent of college freshman make it to their sophomore year. Students drop out for a variety of reasons including lack of financial support or social and academic difficulties.

“It’s so easy for people to fall off,’’ said Krislov, adding that many students who run into problems are not aware of the resources available to help them.

Krislov gave two examples: one of a student who dropped out after running out of money who was not aware of scholarships that were available, and another student who was in jeopardy of dropping out because of difficulty juggling his schedule. Pace was able to help both students by connecting them to the appropriate resources.

He said that Pace University’s retention rate continues to improve in part because of increased faculty-student engagement, financial counseling and the Pace Path with mentorship, experiential learning and individualized plans for academic success. While the improved retention rate is a major accomplishment, he added that colleges, including Pace, still needed to do a better job.

Rockland Community College President Michael Baston, J.D., Ed.D., the morning’s other keynote speaker, said that helping students to feel connected and welcome in their environment was important. He said that his school works to find out student interests and to connect them to clubs and social groups that match those interests. Baston said that pairing freshman with mentors from their home high schools was another way to make new students feel connected.

Nira Herrmann, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs at Pace, said that many students failed simply because they had difficulty navigating the academic bureaucracy. She gave the example of a college senior who told her he was planning on attending graduate school but was not aware that the deadline for applying had long passed.

“Many students do not really understand the rules,’’ she said. “When we think we are communicating, we are not.’’

About Pace University: Since 1906, Pace has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in Lower Manhattan and Westchester County, NY, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, Elisabeth Haub School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. A 2017 study by the Equality of Opportunity Project ranks Pace University first in the nation among four-year private institutions for upward economic mobility based on students who enter college at the bottom fifth of the income distribution and end up in the top fifth.

Follow Pace’s Office of Media Relations on Twitter at @PaceUnews or on the web:


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"Westchester County Business Journal" featured assistant vice president for Student Success Sue Maxam's piece "Sue Maxam: The path to retaining students and keeping them engaged"


"Westchester County Business Journal" featured assistant vice president for Student Success Sue Maxam's piece "Sue Maxam: The path to retaining students and keeping them engaged"

More than 200 educators from 32 schools were represented at Pace University’s second annual retention conference on June 15, as well as several nonprofit organizations, all grappling with student success and its relationship to retention and degree attainment. Participants came to Westchester from as far as California and South Carolina for the one-day conference.

Student success and persistence to graduation is a top priority for institutions across the country and certainly for the many colleges in Westchester. Fewer than 40 percent of students enrolling for the first time at a four-year college graduate in four years. Add in community colleges, and more than half of students who start college drop out within six years. With increasingly diverse, vulnerable and at-risk student populations attending college, now more than ever it is important for faculty to effectively and creatively engage their students inside and outside the classroom.

The student body at Pace University mirrors national averages with several key contributing factors of student persistence and success: More than half are the first in their families to attend college and also more than half are low to moderate income. Many are returning adult students, veterans, students of color, international students and immigrants.

With a diverse student body with varying needs and challenges, college administrators and faculty members must seek ways to engage all students for both the success of the students and the institutions they attend. The numbers prove that an education is the best path forward and college graduates consistently out-earn those who have only a high school degree. Pace University is ranked the number one private institution for upward economic mobility in the country based on data from the Equality of
Opportunity Project.

So what can educators do to ensure student success? One of the biggest influential factors, according to national studies such as the annual National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), is the quality of interaction between faculty and students. I presented at the retention conference, along with several colleagues and a Pace law student on “Pace Path to Retention Success: Student-Faculty Engagement Outside of the Classroom.” We highlighted the connection between faculty engagement and student success and retention and offered best practices.

Demonstrated faculty concern for students has a positive, statistically significant effect on student persistence even after adjusting for a variety of pre-college characteristics, including students’ intellectual ability and academic preparedness. It has been found that student-faculty interaction outside the classroom correlates more strongly with college satisfaction than any other single variable. The frequency of student-faculty interactions correlates significantly with every academic achievement outcome, including college GPA, degree attainment, graduation with honors and enrollment in graduate or professional school.

College faculty members can interact with students in meaningful ways, including by serving as faculty advisor for a student club; participating in summer college immersion programs for incoming students; participating in residential life programs or as a faculty-in-residence; chaperoning travel courses; and leading student academic teams such as Model UN or the Federal Reserve Challenge Team. It is also important to engage from the start by meeting with prospective students during campus visits and participating in new student orientations.

Other best practices include making students aware that office visits are welcome, writing personalized notes to offer support, guidance, or positive reinforcement. Faculty were also encouraged to participate with students on faculty-student research teams. The use of technology is also recommended to increase interaction between professors and students. Online chats and “office hours” work well as a way to engage students any time of the day.

Presenters at the conference were from all over the country. Five of the presentations were facilitated by Pace faculty, along with administrators and students. These included presentations on effectively engaging and supporting veteran students as well as mindfulness-based stress reduction for students to increase resilience to stress and promote retention.

The Pace Path offers solutions to these issues with an individualized plan for success for every student that includes formalized opportunities for faculty-student engagement. It includes planning, mentorship and coaching and experiential learning. 

The goal is for students to have an academic foundation that prepares them for real-world experiences. These experiential learning opportunities are different for each student based on areas of academic and professional interest. These range from internships to participation in Pace’s winning Federal Reserve Challenge Team that competes nationally on economic policy recommendations, to the environmental policy clinic where students have written bills that have become New York State law, to criminal justice students working in area prisons with service animals.

Student-faculty interactions outside the classroom keep students engaged and committed. Real-world experiences give students the tools and skills to tackle the job market with confidence after college. As educators, we need to do more to make these opportunities available for all students.

Sue Maxam is the assistant vice president for Student Success Undergraduate Education at Pace University where she has worked for 28 years in a variety of progressively responsible leadership roles relating to student engagement, retention, advising, academic enrichment/support and career services. In her current position, she provides oversight to five units focusing on creating a transformative student experience. Maxam has created and teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Peace, Justice and Sustainability, and is active in a wide variety of social justice initiatives on and off campus. She has won numerous awards for leadership, mentoring, student engagement, advising and teaching, including the 2015 NYS ACE Women’s Network Catalyst Award for Women Leaders.

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