By SARA QAMAR
Capital News Service
LANSING – Public universities in Michigan are trying to recruit back students who have dropped out before completing their degrees.
Because of declining enrollment rates, universities are looking for nontraditional students to keep numbers up according to the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan.
For example, Western Michigan University’s registrar’s office searches dropouts from the past 10 years.
The focus however, remains on retaining current students and those who dropped out within the past three years, said Keith Hearit, vice provost for strategic and enrollment management.
“Once they leave without a degree, it becomes much harder for them to come back,” Hearit said.
When WMU students who have more than 90 credits haven’t returned, the registrar’s office opens up active files, contacting them at least once a year for five years.
“It’s one of those things where you can see that it has clearly weighed upon them,” Hearit said.
The office sends out about 500 letters a year with a 10 percent response rate. For students who decide to come back, the office shows them how to get back on track.
“Certainly you have to take a fresh look at what they’ve done to see how they can reapply those credits towards graduation,” he said.
“As I watch what’s happening with the economy, certainly the idea that a degree trains you for something is entrenched. And we do find that for many of our prospective graduates, the degree becomes the first run-through that employers go through to bring the applicants down to a manageable size,” Hearit said.
According to the Presidents Council, 50,000 to 60,000 state residents have some college education, but have not finished a bachelor’s degree.
Wayne State University uses a variety of processes to drawback students who may not have returned in one or two semesters.
When programs are not offered anymore, students may need to change majors, university registrar Linda Falkiewicz said. In such situations the university advises them about majors.
The office of the registrar, she said, keeps track of how long students have been gone and questions students about why they’re leaving and when they’re coming back.
“Money is always an issue,” but many people leave for personal reasons such as marriage, children, surgeries or to work because they prefer not to borrow, she said.
In the two years the registrar’s office has implemented such efforts, it has increased overall interaction and communication with students, she said, which contributes to Wayne State’s low number of non-returning students.
“Of tens of thousands of students, 10 or 20 wander off and don’t come back,” she said.
Wayne State has the largest count of part-time students among Michigan’s 15 public universities.
Because non-traditional students’ situations vary dramatically, there is an unmet need to cater to these individuals, said Presidents Council executive director Michael Boulus.
Most of those students transferred from other colleges rather than coming straight from high school, he said.
Returning students need to be given a plan that they can complete in one or two years, he said.
“You’ve got to entice them with the success and a roadmap that says you can do this given your job, given your family,” Boulus said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.