Two students stand at Goucher’s entrance on a bright Saturday morning in late August, waving and smiling to the people driving in from Dulaney Valley Road. For hours more, the cars keep coming.
Hundreds of young people are about to officially become college students. They arrive in a steady stream to Goucher’s leafy campus, walking up the steps of Dorsey Center to a crowd of blue-and-gold-clad greeters. A coffee truck with pastries sits out front. Human minders deploy several campus dogs to receive pets. Families send snaps with a custom Snapchat filter created for the day. Welcome to Goucher Move-in Day, 2017 style.
Students choose Goucher for all kinds of reasons, and Fall 2017 saw one of the largest entering classes ever at Goucher. It was also the greatest number of students who, when surveyed, said that Goucher was their first choice.
Jared Sumar ’21, a political science major, made his decision after some lobbying by his older sister, Jenna Sumar ’15, M.A.D.A. ’17. Jenna was there to help her brother move in (and to buy a T-shirt from the bookstore). Standing in the Dorsey Center Courtyard after getting his OneCard, Sumar is eager to head over to his new home in Pagliaro Selz Hall.
Elsa Alexandrin ’21 is a first-year student from Gorham, Maine. She’s living on the top floor of Pagliaro Selz, or the penthouse, as her mother jokes. Alexandrin is undeclared but interested in environmental science. She chose Goucher to be close to the city and because she liked the unique new curriculum.
But for schools across America, getting students in the door is only part of it. Engaging those students is just as vital. “That sense of belonging is important. You want to make them fall in love with the place,” explains Vice President and Dean of Students Bryan Coker. Engaged students are happier and more successful in college, and students leave college when they don’t feel connected to each other or the school.
Schools are in fierce competition with each other to meet their enrollment numbers, and their ability to retain those students is also a significant factor in college rankings. One problem facing all schools is that fewer people are going to college. 2017 saw 81,000 fewer high school students graduate nationwide than the year before, some of which is due to a dip in the birth rate, and fewer older adults are turning to college now that the economy has improved. Many colleges are also dealing with a reluctance from some international students to come to America in the current political climate, though Goucher has students representing 52 countries on campus this year.
All of these elements have intensified the focus on student engagement. And that means colleges aren’t just thinking about good grades but students’ immersion in the college experience—like making friends and joining clubs or teams.
When asked how Goucher makes that immersion happen, Coker says, “It’s one of those things that we’re doing every minute. We’re trying to provide them with many options to engage.”
Engagement happens with things like thoughtful design of buildings and spaces. The dining hall is moving to the center of campus, which Coker envisions as a community hub, with more professors spending time there, as well. And in the new student residence hall, the internet connection is faster in communal spaces than in individual rooms.
A supportive environment is also vital. Classes average 17 students, and each first-year student now has three mentors—one faculty, one staff, and one fellow student. Coker’s office has started “Mobile Dean” events, where the college deans are stationed at tables on Van Meter Highway every week. The Center for Race, Equity, and Identity does essential work to support Goucher’s students from vulnerable populations. And Goucher uses software to measure and track student success and to prevent students from falling between the cracks when they’re behind in class.
This semester, Goucher also unveiled a new social media site, called GopherApp, with a news feed and a place to list events and announcements. Students have been using it for everything from selling old textbooks to announcing Pokémon marathons and Game of Thrones viewings.
That’s how Goucher does engagement: offer a unique curriculum and liberal arts experience. Have good food and better residence halls. Support students at every level. Connect people to each other. And it is working. In Fall 2017, more than 80 percent of Goucher’s first-year class returned as sophomores, 10 percent higher than the national average for private colleges.
There are more pressing concerns for Goucher’s students on their first day as a Gopher. They want to see their rooms and finally meet their roommates. Sure, there’s construction happening on campus as workers prepare for the next two buildings in the first-year village. But the cheery Goucher community members helping each student move in make a difference. As the men’s soccer team carries in boxes to Pagliaro Selz on Move-in Day, one mother is overheard saying, “It’s so nice to have all this help! This didn’t take any time at all.”
To learn more about the progress happening at Goucher, please visit our Community Matters site. www.goucher.edu/communitymatters