Ohio Wesleyan is on a mission to identify and eliminate impediments to students remaining enrolled and persisting to graduation. Two years into the all-hands-on-deck initiative, OWU is seeing its highest retention numbers in 14 years.

"Our first-to-second-year retention rate is 84.3% for the class that entered in fall 2022," President Matt vandenBerg, says. "That is 2.5 percentage points above the rate for the class that entered in 2021—and fully 5.6 percentage points higher than the class that entered in fall 2020. It is our highest retention rate since the class that entered in fall 2009.

"To dig a little deeper," vandenBerg says, "our retention rate for firstgeneration students rose 9.8 percentage points, and retention rose 7.1 percentage points for Pell-eligible students. That is proof of the success of our extensive efforts and initiatives with at-risk groups."

Indeed, OWU made significant gains in persistence with all class levels this year, including a nearly 7 percentage point rise in retention of students going from their second year to their third year—from 87.4% to 94.3%, the third consecutive year this rate has risen. "This is tremendous progress!" vandenBerg says.

Provost Karlyn Crowley credits a concerted, combined OWU faculty-staff effort with helping more students fulfill their higher education aspirations.

Every OWU student now completes OWU Connection experiences, putting their learning to work outside the classroom, like Niladri Deb '25, who last summer worked on Intel-related nanotechnology research through the Ohio 5-OSU Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program.

"Every student at Ohio Wesleyan should feel that they belong, that they have the tools to persist, and that they will graduate to go out in the world and succeed and give back," Crowley says.

"We are asking, 'What is getting in the way of student success?' And then we clear it," she says. "We are asking, 'Why is that process so complicated for students and families?' And fixing it. We are asking, 'What small amount of assistance might make the difference between a student dropping out or finishing?' And doing it. It is a whole campus effort to see what is not student-centered and make it so."

Dwayne Todd, vice president for Student Engagement and Success, says the university has launched several important initiatives over the past few years to support student retention:

  • Moving the Needle
    Launched in fall 2021, this initiative identified specific areas for improvement and created four committees to design, vet, and help implement solutions. The groups currently are working in the areas of academic support, the business of being a student, the first-year experience, and holistic student advising.
  • Bridge Program
    Launched in summer 2021, this free, three-week residential experience provides incoming firstyear students with the skills and self-confidence they need to thrive at OWU. Ohio Wesleyan is retaining about 95% of students who complete the Bridge Program each year, Todd says.
  • Bishop ACCESS
    This fee-based program provides one-on-one academic coaching for students with executive function challenges including ADHD, learning disabilities, and mental health disabilities.
  • Camp Oh-Wooo
    All incoming students currently participate in a three-day Camp Oh-Wooo off-campus adventure, which seeks to help the university's newest Bishops make friends, reduce anxiety, and connect to OWU. Camp Oh-Wooo is held each fall before classes start.
  • First-Year Seminar
    All new students now complete a semester-long first-year Seminar designed to help them continue to build relationships and chart the course of their OWU academic journey while they collaborate on "How to Change Your World" and tackle a specific issue of global importance.
  • First-Gen OWU/Bishop Elevate
    With 21% of Ohio Wesleyan's total student population identifying as first-generation college students, the university is working to ensure they have the support they need to understand expectations and processes as they forge their futures. This fall, OWU launched the Bishop Elevate office and program to provide an even stronger framework for these efforts.
  • OWU Connection
    Designed to help all students "think big, do good, go global, and get real" (hands-on experience), the OWU Connection "has all four components that make up the high-impact experiences leading to retention," Crowley says.
Before classes began in August, all first-year students attended Challenge Camp, Service Camp, or Wilderness Camp to help them quickly forge connections that last. Those attending Service Camp included, from left, Chantelle Ntiamoah, Judy Ray, and Jennifer Velasquez, shown here volunteering at Mid- Ohio Food Collective in Photo by Paul Vernon Columbus. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

President vandenBerg expects the progress to continue. "Ohio Wesleyan is raising the bar on student success, and I look forward to seeing how much our students can achieve with this infrastructure. I'd like to thank all of our faculty and staff for their outstanding work, especially Karlyn, Dwayne, and their teams."