Student Life and Retention
The associate dean of student affairs oversees housing, residential programming, student activities, student union board, student conduct, equipment, and transportation to support orientation, field courses, and community programming. Counseling and contracted health services report to this area. Students may access brief counseling free of charge during each semester of enrollment.
The housing director, residence life coordinator, student engagement coordinator and eight residence assistants manage and provide programming for 128 resident students. Housing options include singles and doubles with ADA accessible suites in townhouses as well as cottage style living. Resident Assistants develop programming in the areas of life skills, community building, sustainability, Prescott exploration and a passion project. Suite meetings occur monthly to address congregate living dynamics and develop effective communication.
Trends in student mental health across the country are reflected in our Prescott College students. With regards to our traditionally aged resident population, “Gen Z” students exhibit a rise in anxiety disorders and requests for emotional support animals and single occupancy rooms. Our online undergraduate students and graduate students have experienced a rise in anxiety related disorders in the last year as COVID has created some tenuous home and work environments for our non-traditionally aged students. This has resulted in a higher demand for counseling services across the college. Counseling services have been offered through zoom and face to face during the pandemic. Zoom has broadened access for our students who do not reside in Prescott.
The college has a student union board whose officers are elected and whose funding is through student activities fees. Students have the option to create their own club which requires a staff or faculty liaison and a new club may submit a proposal to receive funding from the Student Union Board. The Fanon Center supports several student organizations including the Black Student Union; Fuerza, the college’s Latinx student organization; and CHIWA, a sense of place for indigenous identifying students and allies among predominately white learning institutions. The Fanon Center student organizations have also developed a system for central coordination and organizing through the TOCA committee. The Green Mountain Center for Sustainability is a gathering place for faculty and students relocated during the closing and teach-out of Green Mountain College as well as the larger Prescott College community working together for environmental sustainability.
The director of career services reports to the associate dean of advising and academic achievement. There are limited on-campus activities with employers and minimal participation by students. As the College moved career services online this past year, there has been a significant increase in utilization. The college is in the process of reviewing career services systems with a focus on what kind of services or platforms would best serve students and developing ways to integrate career planning and other career services into the core curriculum. Next steps for career services include building program-specific career outcomes, providing annual career outcomes surveys, creating student portfolios, and integrating career tools (e.g., Handshake and Burning Glass) into career support processes
The student conduct code consists of community agreements which are reflected in department handbooks and program materials. During Orientations to different programs at the college, the student conduct code is reviewed by students and reinforced through academic pedagogy that supports community and individual responsibilities to the college.
Despite the significant increases in first year retention over the past decade, the college has not until very recently seen significant or sustained increases in the six-year graduation rate for on-campus undergraduates which has been running between 30-40 percent–significantly below graduation rates for the college’s peer benchmark institutions. An interesting exception has been the six-year graduation rate for the most recent fall of 2014 cohort of on-campus full-time, first year students that graduated at a record level of 49 percent. A trend in increased retention and graduation of on-campus students may be forming as the four-year graduation rate for the 2016 cohort is 47 percent. Despite the work to increase on-campus retention and graduation rates, such a sudden and dramatic increase was not anticipated. The retention rate for students in online programs runs approximately 60-70 percent and is much more in line with the national averages.
To assist in addressing retention and graduation rates the college implemented the Starfish Retention Management System, rebranded as Prescott Success, in January of 2021. Additionally, the college is working towards full automation of Degree Works, degree planning and auditing system. Degree Works is expected to go live in the fall of 2021. To address retention of undergraduates, particularly on-campus undergraduates, the college reworked the orientation program; reduced the level of self-direction required of students and increased the advising structure; created a first year experience; built out the core curriculum to include a degree plan; and expanded student support services. The accelerated master’s degree option has also increased retention at the undergraduate level.
Prescott College has a blended faculty-staff advising model. Staff advisors assist with student onboarding, advising within the core curriculum, graduation, as well as on-going retention initiatives through holistic support. In addition to their regular meetings and events with students, staff advisors closely monitor the Prescott Success retention management system and reach out to students and faculty as issues arise. All students also have a core faculty advisor. Faculty advisors are matched with students based on their curriculum and serve as strong mentors throughout the student’s educational experience. Faculty advisors are most familiar with each curriculum pathway and help with class registration, career guidance, and resource support. In addition to open faculty and staff advising hours, three advising fairs are offered each semester and several events around extended learning opportunities (field sites, EcoLeague/CIEL, and internship experiences). The college has a full-time learning specialist that assists all students in academic support (time management, note taking, learning strategies, etc.) as well as provides accommodations for students with disabilities. In addition to this, the college has a writing center director that provides coaching to students on writing assignments.
Student support services are located in the Prescott College Library, the center of the campus. Prior to COVID the first floor of the library was transformed into an advising and learning commons. This area was the central location for a variety of events including faculty advisor office hours, regular advising events and workshops, writing jams, and tutoring sessions. During the pandemic most student support services were available online.