EKU retention reaches historic high

Apr. 26—RICHMOND — From Fall 2022 to Fall 2023, Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) reached its highest retention rate in history at 79.62%.

With a total enrollment of more than 15,000 for the Fall 2023 semester, the university has been experiencing steady growth over the past two years, consistent with statewide trends.

In early 2024, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE) announced that Kentucky boasted the highest fall-to-fall total enrollment gains in the United States this year.

"We're proud to see our innovative work in recruitment and retention result in record enrollment growth for the state," said EKU President David McFaddin. "At EKU, we've focused our efforts on strategic and intentional growth—increasing opportunities for student affordability, support and experiences to attract and retain our student population."

As part of strategic priorities to drive enrollment growth, EKU expanded cost-saving programs, such as the EKU BookSmart free textbook initiative; created an engaging campus environment with the Exceptional Eastern Experience (E3); and enhanced student services.

EKU's Student Success Center offers support and encouragement to students, contributing to the university's retention goals. Services include free tutoring, mentorship, study groups and the Chellgren Success Series workshops geared toward helping students with all aspects of college life, such as study skills, time management, choosing a major and landing a scholarship.

"We have a heavy focus on retention—the fact that there even is a tutoring center on campus shows how dedicated we are to student education and success," said Dr. Ashley Sweat, director of the Student Success Center.

Recently, the EKU Student Success Center was awarded recertification in the International Tutor Training Program and the International Mentor Training Program by the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA). The recertification process included several evaluations and trainings, where staff learned about interpersonal skills and how best to tutor other students.

In Fall 2023, the Student Success Center hosted 65 events and workshops, with more than 500 student check-ins. Additionally, there were nearly 2,500 student check-ins at the center for tutoring support and other services.

EKU gurus are trained tutors and mentors at the Student Success Center who offer peer-to-peer services to students. The gurus provide content help in over 150 courses. With the CLRA certifications, each EKU guru is trained under specific guidelines to provide students with study skills, time management, critical reading strategies, test preparation approaches and other skills for success.

"It is a lot less intimidating to talk to a student your own age—someone who understands technology the way you do, how your brain may work, and the way you were raised," said Cassidy Cain, graduate assistant at the Student Success Center.

The Student Success Center allows students to connect with peers who may have had the same classes or the same professors. This allows the gurus to understand how best to mentor and tutor their fellow classmates.

"Having someone who has been in your shoes is very comforting and it puts the class in a whole new light," said Business Guru, Jake Weston. He became a guru because he loved helping other students and seeing them grow. He believes that tutoring services should not be looked down upon but rather be used as an advantage. "Anybody can go. It is super helpful to study for exams, or get a second opinion on things. Tutoring services are important because they allow the student to grow into who they want to be," he said.

In addition to the tutoring and mentoring services offered at the Student Success Center, EKU has invested in increased student support services in recent years. An integrated mental health services model, the Big E Central one-stop-shop for student services and other programs ensure students have the necessary support and resources to succeed in college.

"Eastern is full of opportunity from all the options for majors to all the other components that are offered to give students the ability to succeed. From tutoring, the Noel Studio, to supporting disabilities, this school goes above and beyond to support its students creating opportunities to excel," said Jalisa Tinker, 2023 social work graduate.