Graduation rates are in decline at Anglo-American University with 40 percent of students dropping out before graduation, according to recently released numbers. Some find they can’t afford tuition any longer, some students can’t maintain the minimum grade point average AAU requires, and others simply want to experience different destinations while living abroad, according to school officials.
Dan Padolsky, head student council advisor at AAU, says the school discovered these three prime reasons for dropouts by surveying exiting students. “When students are leaving AAU, they are asked to fill out a one-question form. The question is, ‘Why are you leaving?’”
Padolsky, a graduate from California Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in student services, also received his masters degree at George Washington University and is focused on academic needs. “I have a passion for finding ways to improve the student life here at AAU and student retention is on the top of my list,” he says.
“There are many opportunities for students to thrive,” he adds, through clubs, the Student Council, small class sizes and easy one-on-one student and teacher interaction, he says. But, he adds, “We can always improve, though, as an institution.”
AAU offers a basketball club, a drama club, a running club, a soccer club and other student run organizations but Padolsky says students aren’t joining clubs “because they do not want to pay the activity fee.”
Padolsky believes a peer mentoring program also known as a “buddy system,” where an older AAU student is matched with an incoming student, could help. The mentor would be present during orientation to assist the new student and answer any questions. Hopefully, a bond will be created to help the new student get acclimated more easily, motivating them to stay on.
AAU is hardly alone in struggling to get students to graduation day. A recent article on the College Reality Check website states, “Colleges have raised graduation rates through proactive advising and by better integrating freshmen into campus life.” AAU, along with other universities, is looking at similar ways to improve student retention.
Graduation rates worldwide are declining and in the United States “graduation rates falling at 1/3 of 4-year colleges,” the web site indicates.
Data on the problem has not been easy to come by either until recently. In 1990, the US Congress passed the Student Right-to-know-Act, which required colleges to disclose information on graduation rates. Colleges must now report the proportion of students “completing their program within 150 percent of the normal time to completion.”
According to Padolsky, “retention is fairly spread out amongst the school and now the faculty is becoming more stabilized versus a few years ago, which is better for our students.”
Deni Smith, an AAU freshman in the business school at AAU is transferring to the University of Rotterdam for the next school year. “I have been in Prague for 16 years and I am looking for a change,” he says. “I will be transferring to the University of Rotterdam for its business program next school year.”
As for other motivations, Smith says, “The pros of AAU revolved around the schedule because you were able to format your own schedule around other priorities you had, like a job or an internship. The cons about AAU are that teachers do not have a great relationship with their students, meaning that they do not interact well with them.”
Another factor that should help is more international recognition. Currently, AAU is undergoing its application process for WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accreditation, an effort that started in August 2011. Membership evaluation takes five years but if AAU succeeds, it will be the “first international university to receive it,” according to the school’s website.
“WASC confirms that an institution has substantially met the Commission’s Core Commitments and Standards of Accreditation and associated Criteria for Review and possesses the resources, policies, and practices to achieve its educational goals and has provided evidence of the quality of its educational programs,” according to WASC.
Meanwhile, AAU is doing its best to keep students interested and committed. “The school needs to continue to make honest attempts to meet the needs of the students,” Padolsky says.
Key to more graduation day successes will be learning just what students are looking for that some still find lacking at AAU.