High retention leads to most students in three decades

By Amy Ledig

Feeling like the Macalester campus is more crowded than it used to be? You aren’t just imagining it.
The squeeze isn’t merely due to the number of first-years on campus – this year’s first-year class of 501 is not significantly higher than last year’s 491 enrolled first-year students.

The factor that really packs a punch is a higher rate of retention. More students who start at Macalester are staying on for subsequent years.
Due to gradual increases in incoming class sizes as well as consistently high retention rates, 1,918 students enrolled for this fall semester, the highest number since 1972’s 2,012 students.

Macalester’s retention rates have slowly but surely climbed in the last decade. For the first-years entering in the fall of 1995, the first- to second-year retention rate was 89 percent, and the first- to third-year rate was 83 percent.

In contrast, 93 percent of the first-years who entered in 2003, 2004, and 2005 came back for a second year, and the first- to third-year rate for students entering in the fall of 2004 was 90 percent.

As the number of people on campus grows, students are concerned about losing small class sizes and a low student-to-teacher ratio, major selling points of a Macalester education.

Nikki Kitikiti ’08 has watched the school change over the last three years and said she has seen some strain due to increased enrollment.

“How I felt it grow was in… Intro to Chem labs,” she said. “They have a ridiculous number of people in the labs.”
However, administrators say the numbers have yet to have a serious impact on housing and class size.

“I think for this fall we’re able to do just fine,” Vice President of Student Affairs Laurie Hamre said. “More students went abroad than usual.”

The retention numbers are beginning to tell a new story.

Domestic students of color have historically had lower retention rates than other domestic students and international students. Within the last decade, however, the gap has been closing, most significantly with the class of 2009.

Overall, 93 percent of last fall’s first-year students have remained on campus for their sophomore year.

The rate of retention for the Class of 2009’s minority and international students is 92 percent.

Administrators are taking notice of the increased numbers of students of color staying at Macalester.

According to Dan Balik, Assistant Provost and Director of Institutional Research, of the 31 African-American students in the class of 2008, 100 percent have stayed at Macalester from first to third year.

“It’s never happened before that that large a number of students of color have made it that far into their career with 100 percent retention rates,” he said. “That’s good news.”

Hamre noted that having a larger number of students of color in the student body has likely contributed to the higher retention of minorities.

“Having more [students of color] in the student body makes for a richer experience for all,” she said.

Kitikiti, an international student from Zimbabwe, said she has noticed an increase in the number of students of color on campus.

“[When I got here] it was pretty white, I’m not going to lie,” she said.

When Kitikiti arrived on campus in the fall of 2004, 13 percent of Macalester students were domestic students of color. This fall, 17 percent of the students are domestic students of color, up from 16 percent the previous year and 11 to 12 percent from 1997 to 2003.
Kitikiti said she agreed with Hamre that increased numbers of students of color on campus are a reason why more of them are staying.

“There were more minorities my sophomore year than there were my freshman year, and there definitely are more this year,” Kitikiti said. “I guess people feel less alone.”

Kitikiti credits changes in attitudes and culture on campus for the closing of the gap between minority retention rates and overall retention rates.

“There’s been a lot more discussion [about multicultural life],” she said, referring to recent dialogues about the state of campus multiculturalism. “People were like, ‘Hey, Macalester, you can’t say multiculturalism is one of the four pillars and not be that diverse.'”

Some view the larger number of students on campus as a mixed blessing.

“It seems like the lunch room is more crowded. Walking to class is harder, since the freshmen still clump together,” Kristin Lofquist ’09 said.

Still, it’s not all bad. Lofquist noted an advantage to having more people at events.

“If you go to a soccer game, it’s more crowded. It’s good.”