As of last semester, the retention rate of Black male students on Otterbein University’s campus has dropped more than 50% from previous years.
Retention rate is a metric that colleges and universities use to find the percentage of students that return for their sophomore year. At Otterbein University, the male population of this year’s sophomore class retained 82.2%, which was a general increase from last year’s retention rate of 76.3%.
According to an email from President John Comerford, Otterbein retained 44.4% of their Black male students, which was 4 out of 9 students this past year. In comparison to the previous year, Otterbein’s retention rate for Black male students was one of the highest percentages among all demographics represented on campus at 95.5%, with 21 of 22 students returning.
“There’s context to numbers. You see a percentage that’s pretty high and it causes an alarm..." said James Prysock, director of the office social justice and activism. "There weren’t a lot of actual individuals that transferred. We try to put this into perspective and say that ‘hey, we did lose some students, so, why did we lose those students,’ regardless of the number.”
While the number of individual students leaving alone is not staggering, Otterbein is focused on making sure that the percentage itself does not become a trend, Prysock continued.
Otterbein has tried to involve as many groups as possible through initiatives and programs like RISE, African American Student Union, Men of Vision, Sister’s United, the International Student Association and more. These programs have offered students a chance to meet like-minded people in their new, more diverse environment.
“[Programs] can give people information and make the experience as personable as possible, and that’s where the real value is,” said graduate student Phanawn Bailey. “All these struggles that students have, they’re not doing it by themselves and they’re not alone. We have the resources to help people.”
Bailey, a fifth year MBA student at Otterbein who is currently the acting athletic, academic and social justice liaison, sees the retention rate as an ongoing problem. “If I had family that wanted to come here, I wouldn’t want them to come here thinking they could fail. I want them to know this is a good opportunity for them to be successful.”
Prysock also added that the university has a much larger class of Black male students this year. There is an increased focus on making sure that the lower retention rate does not become a pattern.
“We came up with a couple of things. You look at, through the time of COVID-19, how that really hurt Student Affairs and other support structures that the university has from connecting with students,” Prysock said. “It’s almost like we have two first-year classes this year. Last year’s class didn’t truly have a ’college experience.’ That is a focus for us.”