What is UNCA actually doing to keep students engaged?

Sam Hager

Assistant News Editor

shager@unca.edu

Photo By Camryn Mickan
Regine Criser poses for a photo in her campus office.

Since the lockdown last year, a number of students have left, some never to return. UNC Asheville faculty have tried tirelessly to stem the flight of students using certain measures some may find invasive.

Regine Criser, director of first and second year academic success, reached out to staff on campus, asking them to submit a student’s information to her office if a student voiced intent to not return in the fall semester. Faculty aren’t required to obtain a student’s permission before they send in that student’s information.

“We are not cataloguing information to then grab those students and beg them to stay. We really just want to make sure the student who has an intention to leave knows all the things that they need to be doing in order to do so. We want to support them in that process. We want to make  that process as positive as possible,” she said. “But we also want to understand why they’re leaving.”

According to Criser, her office has seen a multitude of viable reasons for why students might not return. Some students say they aren’t getting their money’s worth out of their education during a pandemic. Others are looking to be closer with their families during this trying time.

“COVID also had the impact that students are evaluating the distance to their families. We had a good number of students who share with us. They’re like, ‘You know what? I just need to be closer to home, I need to be closer to my family.’”

Students like Sean Miller, sophomore and environmental science major, possess other duties off campus that require them to interact with more vulnerable populations.

“I work with people who don’t have access to health care, period,”

Miller said. “If I get COVID and carry it from the classroom into my job, that could mean someone’s life and that is not a risk I’m willing to take.”

Miller began thinking about taking a semester off after the fall semester’s continued lockdown protocols subverted her ability to attend class safely.

“I honestly started thinking about leaving last semester just because of the pandemic. It’s not an environment that is conducive to actually learning. I started thinking about it last semester, but I came back this semester in hopes that things were going to get better and they just didn’t,” she said.

Seth Maile, a sophomore and political science major, said the reason he thought about transferring out came from the social disconnect he felt during the lockdown. Without being able to reach out and make new connections after some of his friends transferred, he felt left behind.

“The closest bonds you make, most of them, are those people you are suffering with freshman year in your dorm, in your building or in one of your classes. I think at Asheville a lot of those people leave,” he said.

However, according to Maile, after learning one of his best friends will return in the coming fall semester, Maile decided to stay at UNCA.

Some aspects of campus are still pulling students in. Faculty like Michael Ruiz of the physics department have yet to see any significant impacts of COVID-19 in the turnout in their classes.

“I’ve been doing distance learning exclusively since the original lockdown in 2020, like the middle of the semester. I don’t easily see empty seats that you could see if you were in a real classroom. I had a very successful spring signup for the light class,” Ruiz said. “Only four have dropped.”

According to Ruiz, four students out of 64 dropping his course falls well within the realm of what’s to be expected during a normal semester. In fact, more students remained in the course than what might be expected when compared to previous years.

The fact of the matter is, certain professors were far more ready to adapt their teaching styles to an online format. Students like Maile recognize the effects of these efforts which could contribute to the high retention in Ruiz’s class.

“He has a great, great, great, great, great online classroom. All my roommates took his class freshman year, and they were like, ‘Look at this guy’s setup! This is crazy!’ And you’re never worried about your grade in the class,” Maile said.

According to Criser and other faculty on campus, the students of UNCA will be returning to an all in-person format in the fall of 2021. While this poses new challenges like transitioning students who might have preferred the online format into a classroom, it’s important to recognize all the efforts made on campus.

“I’m really grateful for them. I love my students. I feel like, as director of first and second year academic success, everybody who was in their first and second year you can say is my student, even if they are not in my class. I’m just really proud of them, of how they’ve done during this pandemic,” she said.

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