By Pierry Parmera
Although the college is doing well in student satisfaction, the 2013 academic annual report shows that there is much to improve in the areas of graduation and retention rates.
The college’s current graduation rate stands at 64 per cent which is lower than the 70 per cent provincial benchmark. And the retention rate of the last academic year is 86.5 per cent.
“We have put a lot of effort in retaining students because if we can retain them they are more likely to graduate,” Algonquin President Kent MacDonald said.
“I think you are going to see an increase on graduation rates because we have been working on retention diligently for the last five to six years,” said Doug Ouderkirk, executive director of Academic Operations and Planning.
The college aims at improving retention for first-year students going into their second semester because the number of academic withdrawals for first year students has been very high in recent years.
“We lost 1,500 students between level one and two last year,” said Ouderkirk.
The college’s strategy to keep these students is to be proactive and raise awareness about the academic support that is available for them on campus.
“They’ve opened a lot more services in the Commons to help students,” he said. “We have a center we are opening for math and English that’s going to be available for students and we’ve also expanded our academic advisory program.”
If the college is able to keep these students, the retention rate will be closer to Algonquin’s 90 per cent targeted goal, and closer to improving the graduation rate, especially among non-traditional students.
“Algonquin takes a disproportionately higher number of non-traditional students than any other post-secondary students in Ottawa,” said MacDonald. “We think that this is the right thing to do and we are proud of that.”
Non-traditional students like disabled students, first-generation students and aboriginal students require additional support to be successful, according to MacDonald.
Despite the college’s comparatively low graduation rate MacDonald has been very happy with students who actually graduate as they generally have a very good reputation with a nine out of 10 satisfaction rate among employers.
“This number is incredibly high,” he said. “It shows that our values to education is very relevant to employers.”
The college’s values are well-appreciated by graduates and potential graduates.
“I find my program very interesting and my experience has been really good,” said Mike Warren, a second-year small and medium business entrepreneurship student.
Like many students, Warren found it difficult entering second year because of the increased expectation and faster pace.
“I thought about dropping out of my program but right now it would be a very bad decision on my part,” said Warren who plans to work on building his own business after graduation.
Unlike Warren, however, many of Algonquin’s students fail to graduate and that is of great concern to the college.
“We might not see the grad rate going up for another two or three years,” said Ouderkirk. “But I think we can improve KPI (Key Performance Indicator) and retention. The aftermath of that will be the grad rates will go up.”
But as Ouderkirk and Kent MacDonald expected, this is going to be a very slow process to reach the provincial benchmark.
“I know that the 70 per cent is a very difficult number to achieve,” said MacDonald.
But he is very confident and positive that the college can make improvements so long as students participate.
“We’ve raised $30 million for student bursaries alone within the past years,” he said.
“If students need help they need to speak out. If they are struggling academically they need to see faculty,” he said, urging greater cooperation between student and faculty for the good of Algonquin.