To the Marietta College Comunity:

Last week, I wrote about enrollment and its overwhelming importance to the College’s mission as well as its financial health. That discussion cannot be complete without a look at the twin priority of retention.

Inspiring a student to choose Marietta College is always a victory worth celebrating, but it is only the first step in growing The Long Blue Line. It offers no guarantee that the student will stay with us even for a full academic year, let alone four. In a typical year, 18% of Marietta students do not return the following fall, and the impact on our academic community — as well as our bottom line — is significant. This fall we are projecting an attrition rate of around 19.5%.

Preventing just one of those students from dropping out and helping him, her, or them make it to graduation ultimately means a difference of $75,000 in revenue over the next three years.

This is important for all of us to keep in mind because, exactly as with recruitment and enrollment, achieving a higher retention rate is a job for every one of us. Many of the same principles apply: Students who feel valued and supported are more likely to persist through challenges, and every member of the faculty, staff, and administration can play a role.

Compared to similar small, liberal arts colleges, Marietta enrolls a relatively high number of first-generation college students. I consider that a badge of honor for the role we play in expanding opportunities for those families. But it also means we must be especially well prepared to address the special challenges they face.

That’s why the new Strategic Plan calls for making Marietta a Student-Ready College.

Traditional thinking demands that students be “college ready” — academically, financially, and emotionally. That expectation not only is increasingly unrealistic; it also shuts the door to higher education for countless young people who have tremendous potential but have not had privileges such as excellent K-12 schools, tranquil family lives, and role models with college experience.

Our goal is to make Marietta as ready for those students as we always have been for more-traditional new Pioneers. It will mean new systems for proactively spotting and addressing academic struggles, homesickness, and mental-health challenges before they lead to dropping out. It will mean empowering every employee on campus as educators in their own right to provide a welcoming environment where students feel comfortable asking questions and seeking assistance when needed. It might mean non-traditional graduation plans that allow students more flexibility to work in order to help pay for costs. 

You can help new Pioneers remain Pioneers.

Those who are leading the implementation of our strategic plan are eager to engage anyone who wants to lend time and talent to the effort. If you have an idea or a contribution to make, please let me know.

Let us make the fall of 2023 one in which we welcome a record number of returning Pioneers.

Bring Forth (and Keep) a Pioneer!

Bill Ruud
President and Professor of Management