New semester, who’s back—who’s not?

Hamline’s semester to semester retention rates fluctuate every year, but pinpointing exactly why students stay some years and not others is difficult.

Anika Besst, Reporter

Last fall, Hamline enrolled a historically large first-year class. Not all those students necessarily came back for a second semester. 

According to data on undergraduate retention collected by the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, over 90% of new first-years return for the spring every year.

Retention, which refers to the number of students who return to the school where they are studying for consecutive semesters, does not just apply to first-year students. The further students get into their college career, the more retention rates drop.

“The retention rates tend to bounce around a bit from year to year… There are so many variables influencing student’s lives,” provost John Matachek said. 

Data on the class of 2019 indicates that although 92% returned for a second semester, only 52% of the original students were still enrolled at Hamline by the spring of their fourth year.

In certain semesters, those numbers fluctuate wildly although the overall trend is with a recent downward trend. In the class of 2020, 80% had remained through two full years. In the class of 2021, only 68% had remained for two full years. 

These numbers may point to higher drop-out rates or students transferring to other institutions, but knowing why students leave and whether that’s a failure on Hamline’s part is never clear. 

“I think students return because they have come to believe that they did make the right choice in attending Hamline, that it is a good fit for them personally and in terms of their academic goals and that the institution is meeting their needs,” Matachek said. 

Similarly, some students do not return due to financial barriers, health and family issues, military service or finding their field of interest is not offered here. 

Dean of Students Patti Klein gave the example of how a student could enter planning to pursue pre-med but reconsider and want to study nursing instead. In this case, Hamline would not meet their needs as Hamline does not offer a nursing program. 

“I think some students also leave because the way that the school demands so many areas under the Hamline plan causes a lot of headaches for people who are in various disciplines,” said senior Kobey Layne. “I think another one of the issues that Hamline students face and that the university needs to confront is the advent of college completion in high school. People can save anywhere from 1-2 semester’s worth of time and tuition if they transfer to a school that accepts their AP credits.” 

Student retention also depends on whether students continue to feel Hamline is the right place for them—not just academically but socially and personally as well. Students who have good relationships with their professors and peers are more likely to stay, while those who have had negative experiences in that regard may choose to leave. 

“Reasons kids might not return would include racism,” said Hope Nordrum, a first-year who is considering transferring in her upcoming years. “Also, money and financial aid. But the vibe, the people and the money are the biggest reasons probably [why students stay].”

Measuring retention rates is an important way for Hamline to attempt to track how well students are being served. But those numbers have limits.

“Throughout my time here our numbers have gone up a little bit or dropped a little bit, I think they are pretty consistent overall,” Klein said. “Regardless of where the number is my hope is that as a campus that is what we are focusing on how to help all of our students accomplish those goals.”