A recent study released by The Huffington Post listed colleges with the unhappiest freshmen in the nation. I must admit, the first thought that came to my mind was, “Why should I be concerned about this list? I am a senior. I’m graduating in the spring.”
But when I looked more closely at the list, I saw that Utah Valley University was not in an enviable spot. UVU ranked as the ninth-lowest college in terms of freshmen retention.
At first, The Huffington Post’s list made me angry. UVU is my school. I’ve loved receiving an education here. Honestly, all of my classes have been great experiences. I’ve encountered friendly staff and wonderful fellow students. I just could not understand why freshmen would be unhappy and not want to come back.
Then I thought of a reason why freshmen retention might be so low at UVU: Mormon missionaries.
Over 50 percent of the population in Utah is LDS. It’s not far-fetched to believe that large portions of male freshmen in the state are biding their time until they turn 19 and can serve their missions. This gives them only one year of college – sometimes only one semester – before they leave. That brief period of time might not be the most studious for the prospective missionary. He might not take college seriously knowing that he would not have to think of math, English or biology for the next two years.
But for those students don’t go on missions, what factors could keep freshmen from coming back to school?
At first Maykela Cox, a freshman from California majoring in communications, was excited for her first year at UVU. After her freshman year, however, she did not feel like coming back to school after her first semester. She even went to the extent of taking the next semester off.
“I was excited about registering for classes, making my own schedule and being able to plan my own future for a change, which is totally different from high school,” Cox said.
But Cox didn’t understand that including “party all night” in her new schedule was not the best for her. She registered for 17 credits as a freshman and planned her schedule to include all the parties and activities that were not available to her in high school. Trying to balance both schoolwork and an active social life did not go well. She lost her desire to go to school, so she took a break because it was too much for her to handle.
“I realized that I was accountable for the classes I registered for. I could not balance my college life and personal life. I was not mature enough to realize that education should come first,” Cox said.
Cox eventually came back to school, but instead of constantly going to parties, she got involved in things that helped her focus more on her studies and make friends at the same time. Cox joined the UVU African club, Black Student Union and Alpha Chi Omega.
“The African club was a healthy substitute for all my parties; I learned African dances and met wonderful friends who made me love college. I wanted to show I was diverse and willing to learn other cultures and get out of the American bubble,” Cox said.
To Cox, joining the Black Student Union and the Multicultural Center gave her a sense of security by meeting people with experiences and ideas similar to hers. Joining the Alpha Chi Omega sorority made Cox get involved in a sisterhood founded on morals.
“The sisterhood was genuine and we hung out together and did homework together,” Cox said.
Cox misunderstood what getting involved meant at first. Now she knows that when people say get involved, they don’t mean go to all the parties in town.
“To me, getting involved means, get involved with groups that have morals, groups that run simultaneously to what you want to accomplish in college. If you want leadership skills on your resume, get involved in groups on campus that strengthen those skills.”
Faith Heaton also met obstacles during her time as a freshman. A senior majoring in journalism from a small town in southern Utah, Heaton had a hard time coming to college from a small city. It was more intimidating for her and she did not know anyone, yet UVU’s Honors Program made Heaton interested in coming back to school.
“Coming into the Honors Program gave me instant group of friends,” Heaton said.
The Honors Program provides an opportunity for students to experience things they wouldn’t normally experience in college. It organizes a lot of fun learning and hands-on trips. For Heaton, her freshman year included camping in the Uinta Mountains, taking trips to the Shakespeare festival in Cedar City and other activities that were not only educational but also made her love school.
“I felt more connected to the university and my circle of friends by doing these activities, and even though it was not related to my major, it got me exposed,” Heaton said.
Heaton feels the Honors Program contributed significantly to helping her achieve what she has accomplished academically today.
“If any student feels alone, it’s their fault. There are so many things to get involved in,” Heaton said. “For me, the Honors Program made me feel significant and not [like] another random student on campus. It made me want to come back to school.”
Freshman year is difficult enough. Erratic schedules, burning the candle at both ends and a lack of involvement aren’t going to help you at all.
There are plenty of ways to make your first year as a university student enjoyable and memorable. UVU’s current level of freshman retention is unacceptable. This school won’t get any better because you left and never came back. Stick around a while. You might grow to like it here if you give it a chance.
Written By GLORIA KAJO