Posted at: 10/10/2013 11:03 PM
By: Steph Crock

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Colleges Struggle To Retain Students

(ABC 6 News) -- As the slowly recovering economy continues to force thousands of unemployed workers back to school for more education and training, community colleges across the country are struggling to retain the students they already have.

At the average American two-year college or university, nearly half the students will only make it half way towards their degree.

The national first-year retention rate sits at an average of 53 percent, with Minnesota not far behind at 52.6 percent.

Iowa comes in last in the Midwest with less than half its students returning for their second year, with an average retention rate of 49.9 percent.

At North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, the rate is closer to 56 percent, but officials say that's still not good enough.

To improve, the school has started offering a class on transitioning to the college experience, as well as a number of student groups, because they say one of the best ways to keep students coming back, is to help them connect to someone on campus.

“Usually we say it has to be faculty,” said Terri Ewers, vice president for student services at NIACC. “But just so that they know that at least one other person employed at the college knows their name, knows who they are.

Many of the students ABC 6 talked to said that while they plan to return next year, the reason many of their classmates won't is because of personal or financial reasons, with some unwilling, and others simply unable to continue.

“Since high school everyone's just always been told you have to go to college or your life won't go anywhere,” said Kevin Ramirez, a first-year business student at NIACC. “That's pretty much the reason everyone comes and then some just realize they just don't like it, they'd rather work."

That's why school officials say they're working hard to find out what students want out of school to try and make those goals a reality.

“Nobody comes to college to say, ‘I want to drop out,’” Ewers said. “Everybody comes to college with the idea that they want to be able to move forward. They might not know exactly what their career goal or end result is, but they're here for a reason."