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WVU battles retention problems post-pandemic

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. —West Virginia University officials have ongoing concerns about student retention.

The university is still working on the latest numbers, but Provost Maryanne Reed said Monday that retention levels for all students have dropped post-pandemic.

Reed, during an appearance on “MetroNews Talkline,” said the drop after several years of increasing numbers resulted from efforts at WVU to improve student outcomes.

Reed referenced what she called the “Great Dropout” during the pandemic that resulted in about 1 million college students not returning to campuses nationwide. Reed said WVU’s retention issue is being felt across the board, not in one area.

“We believe that we have experienced something similar here, less an issue with freshman coming back than just students as a whole not coming back,” Reed said.

Over the last three years, the student routine has been completely uprooted. Reed said the systems and checks used to keep students on track were really not designed for the virtual setting dictated by the health crisis.

“They came out of a period of high school where they were getting most of their courses hybrid or online and they just weren’t maybe as prepared as they were in the previous year,” Reed said.

Reed also cited the current job market as a reason some have not returned to campus but inflation and the cost of living could also be factors, according to Reed.

“Some of the financial support that had been available, some of the federal support really dried up,” she said. “So, there were some students that were not in a great financial position this fall.”

Reed said mental health has been a priority on campus for at least the last three years and as the issue is talked about more, more people have come forward looking for help. Now, in addition to the Carruth Center and the Healthy Minds University students also have access to telehealth for mental health counseling.

“Nationally, I think it’s something like 30% of college students say they’re experiencing mental health issues. So it’s not a small thing and it’s most likely a factor in those retention rates.”

WVU has joined the First Scholars Network, an organization encouraging first-generation college students, and earned the national FirstGen Forward award to mark the commitment to the success of first-generation students. The school has also developed the “Pathways” program to help students select a major and schedule reform to increase student satisfaction.

“We’re hoping it’s a one-time blip, but we’ve been focused pretty intentionally on improving student success here over the past several years and we’re going to dig deeper into that work,” Reed said.

During the most recent WVU Board of Governors meeting last Friday, Reed reported the average GPA for the freshman class is 3.7, there are 920 members of the Honors program and enrollment across all campuses is 27,000.

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