Leon Stevenson III and Bianca Townsend sat onstage in Atkins-Holman Student Commons at Columbia College, singing their hearts out to Alicia Keys’ “Diary.”
“Some people are turned off by singing in front of their peers,” Stevenson, a junior marketing major, said. “I’m trying to lead by example to say, ‘Come out and do this because it’s fun.’”
In an effort to make off-campus students more involved in campus life at Columbia College, the Student Activities and Student Development departments have planned activities, such as open-mic and karaoke performances, for both on- and off-campus students to participate in during the day.
“We surveyed off-campus students last year and asked about their needs,” Kim Kinyon, director of student development, said. “We found that many of them requested to have programs in the early afternoon, often between classes, so they wouldn’t have to come back to campus to participate in activities.”
Making off-campus students feel more connected to their school is one way the college is trying to improve its retention rate.
“If you enjoy your environment and it meets your needs, there is no reason to leave,” Kinyon said.
Terry Smith, academic dean, said the percentage of freshman who return for a sophomore year at Columbia College is usually in the low 60s.
MU’s freshman retention rate is 84.8 percent, and in 2004, according to higheredinfo.org, Missouri’s retention rate was 76 percent for four-year colleges and universities.
Columbia College President Gerald Brouder has said the school’s retention rate must improve.
“Establishing market position is an inexact science but one that becomes more critical annually as our competitors practice their unique brands of recruitment,” Brouder said in his State of the College Address on Sept. 15. “We must outservice our competition, both in attracting and retaining students. Our processes and interactions with students and others must exhibit a caring attitude.”
Anthony Claypool, director of student activities and leadership development, organized most of the activities in the student commons, which also include craft days and “grocery bingo,” in which the prizes are items such as fruit, noodles and pasta sauce.
“I made a decision in the summer prior to this year to try and capitalize on the population while they were already on campus,” Claypool said. “The events don’t have the flash and potential for exceptional interaction with others, as might the evening activities my groups put on, but it’s a start.”
Claypool said each activity serves a different purpose.
“Grocery bingo doesn’t really provide students with a venue to interact with new people or learn anything, but it’s a way to introduce myself and the department and let them know that we are a resource,” he said. “Events like the open mic, on the other hand, are centered on interaction, performance and discussing the abilities of individuals.”
Another problem is off-campus students not realizing that they are invited to attend activities sponsored by the Student Activities Department and the Student Activities Commission, such as hayrides, bowling and paintball. As a result, advertisements for these events now specifically note that off-campus students are welcome.
“Off-campus students are a part of the community, but they participate at a lower clip because they don’t have the same kind of bond to the institution,” Claypool said. “Our mission is to create those bonds.”
Kinyon said a special orientation program is offered for off-campus students to make sure they are aware of the services available to them.
“If we can give them all of the information right from the start, we find they are better connected,” she said. “However, many off-campus students choose not to attend those events, and we are left with the challenge of figuring out the best way to communicate with them.”
One of the biggest challenges in connecting with off-campus students is that they tend to view their affiliation with the school differently than those who live on campus.
“Our off-campus folks who are from Boone County already have a social and support network, so it’s not as imperative for them to be engaged at Columbia College,” Claypool said. “Any student who moves from out of state to attend college needs that social and support network to have a successful academic career.”
Kinyon said she thinks the activities are an added bonus for students who already hang out in the new student commons.
“I think the aesthetics and usefulness of the building itself creates a more welcoming environment for the off-campus students to feel they have a place to hang out on campus,” she said.
Stevenson, whose performance of “Diary” was his fifth of the day, said he likes activities such as karaoke because they let students have a little fun at school.
“They don’t have to pretend their shoe is a microphone anymore,” he said. “Now they can really have one.”