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WIU Awarded 2014 Retention Excellence Award

July 17, 2014

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MACOMB, IL -- Western Illinois University's recent retention success has garnered the institution the 2014 Lee Noel-Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award from Noel-Levitz, a higher education consulting firm. Western is one of three institutions in the nation that received the award July 9 at the National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing and Retention.

According to Gary Biller, vice president of student services, this year's fall-to-spring retention rate improved to 89.3 percent (Fall 2013 to Spring 2014), from 82.2 percent (Fall 2012 to Spring 2013), and the percentage of new first-time freshmen in good academic standing or semester honors after their first semester was 78.2 percent in Fall 2013, compared to 70.4 percent in Fall 2012.

"The program that has delivered noticeable results for our total campus enrollment has been the Building Connections mentoring program," noted WIU President Jack Thomas. "I have personally mentored a small group of students each year, and I can attest to the potential of mentoring relationships to positively impact student success and retention."

Students who met with their Building Connections faculty or staff mentor were 90.6 percent likely to return for the spring semester, and a renewed emphasis on community development within University Housing and Dining Services resulted in 92.7 percent of freshmen returning to the residence halls for the second semester, compared to 79.9 percent in the previous year. Western also implemented a new common course experience to help students explore the role of critical thinking, problem solving and information gathering skills to achieve success in college and personal growth.

"In the last decade, WIU has faced enrollment challenges, which can be attributed largely to new freshman retention decreasing," Biller explained. "With fewer high school graduates in the state and increased competition from out-of-state institutions, the student population has changed significantly in 10 years. However, programs such as Building Connections, which pairs first year students with a faculty or staff mentor, and a First Year Experience course, are having a significant, positive effect on first-year student success and we are beginning to see these positive effects. We anticipate retention rates, and the academic quality of our students, to continue that upward trend."

The Building Connections program began in Fall 2011 as a pilot program with 400 randomly selected new freshman living in the same residence hall. In Fall 2012, the program was expanded to include all new freshman students, and in Fall 2013, the Building Connections program became a course requirement of the newly developed freshmen seminar course.

"We are pleased to be recognized by Noel-Levitz for our efforts in helping students succeed at Western Illinois University," Thomas noted. "I am proud of the initiatives we have in place that provide essential resources and opportunities to our students, many of whom are first generation college students. We must continue this commitment to ensure future generations of students continue to achieve great things at WIU."

Posted By: WIU News (
Office of University Relations