“I have been waiting for 20 minutes to see a dean — where are they?  Why can’t you sign my excuse for my absence? What do you mean I am suspended?  I need funds to return to school; can you help?  My daughter is having trouble with a course; can you assist her? Can I participate in graduation without completing all the requirements?”

These questions represent only a fraction of the issues handled in the Office of Undergraduate Studies, which is most often referred to as the Dean’s Office.  Although we cannot possibly convey all that happens in the office, one of our major objectives is to sustain academic excellence by increasing our student retention rate.

Whether it is first-year experience seminar or commencement, the Dean’s Office plays a pivotal role in developing, coordinating, and administering academic policies, programs, and initiatives that facilitate and enhance the educational experiences of all students to increase the College’s retention rate, which currently is 85 percent and the highest among historically Black colleges and universities.

While this rate may be laudable to some, our retention goal is 100 percent.

In an era where retention registers prominently on the radar of college administrators, the Dean’s Office works assiduously to provide academic support services and counseling for all students. The economic climate of the nation certainly has impacted retention at most colleges, but we are personally invested in assisting our students’ efforts to identify scholarships and work opportunities on campus and in nearby communities.

Also, we work with the offices of Career Planning and Development and Financial Aid to help students finance their education, a major challenge for many.  Students who must work (sometimes more than 10 hours per week) to pay for school, often find it challenging to balance their academic course loads and work schedules.  Our office helps students develop manageable, academic action plans, and we refer them to our counseling department to negotiate situations and specialists for time management strategies and effective study skills and techniques.

This year seems to have had an unusual number of challenges that have affected our retention. Nevertheless, we have been resourceful and vigilant in our efforts to retain our students.

While the president was busy raising funds for the Starfish Initiative, we constantly reviewed strategies for implementing programs and activities for student success. Partnering with Wal-Mart and LEADS for the second year, we offered enrichment and academic support for first-generation college students, increasing the retention of this target group by 20 percent.   It is successes like these that keep our office motivated, and busy.

By identifying attrition risk factors such as economics or academic deficits, we can offer support services to reduce the attrition of our students. So, if a student waits 20 minutes to see a dean or has to attend yet another convocation, she can be counted among those who are successfully matriculating at Spelman, a place where sustaining academic excellence is an absolute for producing well-educated, ethical leaders. —The Office of Undergraduate Studies.