New student emails aim to promote retention and “on time” graduation

Emails are an essential part of life as a New College student, from talking with professors to engaging with other students on the forum.

Since 2012, New College student emails have included the student’s year of entry, which served to define cohorts and instilled a sense of community among the student population. However, on April 21, the Board of Trustees meeting facilitated by Vice President of Finance and Administration Christian Kinsley and General Counsel David Fugett decided to change incoming student emails to reflect the cohort’s expected year of graduation. Revisions were also made to the email guidelines that terminates student emails belonging to alumni if they are inactive for over 12 months. Without a formal announcement, this change came as a surprise to faculty and returning students. According to Kinsley and Director of Communications and Marketing Ann Comer-Woods, the new student emails have been put in place in order to improve retention and to nudge entering students towards graduating in the standard four years.

According to the proposed board action document concerning revised email regulations, a  notice of the board meeting was posted to the NCF website “at least thirty days prior to the April 21, 2020 board meeting.” The public was also invited to comment on the proposed subjects to Fugett, but no comments were submitted before the meeting. Along with the change made to student emails to include expected year of graduation, regulations were revised so that accounts belonging to alumni are terminated if they do not access their student email for over 12 months. Plus, only first name initials are now being used instead of full first names. Students are also able to request a preferred first name initial through the Registrar’s office. The decision to replace the year of entry with the expected year of graduation was the crux of this revision to email account regulations and according to Kinsley, the change was meant to be both “inclusive and aspirational.”

“Inclusive, because all students do not graduate in four years, such as transfer or graduate students,” Kinsley said. “Aspirational, because ideally it reflects when the student hopes to graduate.”

Meanwhile, Comer-Woods says that the changes to incoming student emails is one of many efforts to boost student retention rates, along with the newly-minted Student Success Center (SSC) and first-year seminars.

“We certainly want to do everything we can to help the students that we admit be successful and to graduate from New College in four years,” Comer-Woods said.

Comer-Woods also said the idea of changing student emails to reflect the intended graduation year predates her arrival to New College in 2018. The idea first took root over two years ago among President O’Shea’s cabinet as part of a larger plan to focus on student retention and encourage incoming first-years to graduate in four years.When asked why current and former students had never been consulted or alerted of this change, Comer-Woods said that a solid discussion about announcing it had never come up.

“I do not recall a decision being made one way or the other to make any kind of public communication or not about this,” Comer-Woods said. “It’s sort of a technological thing, what we were doing with the student email addresses.”

This change has sparked discussion among students as well as alumni in NC(F) Daimon, a Facebook group dedicated to alumni. The New College Alumni Association’s (NCAA) own eligibility requirements state that “any person who has withdrawn from New College after having successfully completed at least one academic term shall also be considered a member of the Association.” When this bylaw is considered next to the administration’s recent endorsement of the standard four-year graduation date, it is no surprise that news of this change was met with reactions ranging from confusion to stark disapproval. To some, the change seems inconsequential and strange, especially during a time when colleges nationwide are already facing so many other pressing issues while contending with a global pandemic.

“It almost sounds like they are trying to come up with some marketing shenanigans to justify a simple IT decision,” alumnus Nicole Robinson (‘11) said. “My initial thought was that adding dates makes sense to avoid duplicate addresses—but the change from enrollment year to graduation year seems pointless.”

This perception is supported by the fact that some incoming first year students were given a ‘23 this Fall instead of an expected ‘24, as revealed by third-year Ellie Young.

“It doesn’t seem to be correlated with transfer status; the first-years I spoke to with ‘23 emails had no idea why they were given that number,” Young said.

Other alumni said they believed this change reflects a larger cultural shift: a gradual attempt to make the college conform to broader state-wide standards and expectations. Some bring up the point that New College has never been a typical institution and the inclusion of any kind of numbered indicator to student emails is still a recent trend.

“I would also point out that New College was not a four-year program at all points in its history,” alumnus Mike Campbell (‘91) said. “Even now, ‘early’ graduation is possible, even if ‘late’ graduation is more common. Conventional designations don’t work very well for a place that hasn’t followed standard conventions.”

Grant Balfour (‘90), an administrator of the Facebook group, has stated that the change “seems like a small indication of a major—and unwelcome—cultural change.”

Still, others believe that it is reasonable for the administration to encourage students to graduate within four years. Alumnus Anthony Lewis (‘94) said that it is a “justifiable expectation,” and that earning a four-year degree shouldn’t be so easily negotiated at a graduate-level program. Even so, it begs the question of whether the change to email regulations is the proper way to address the rule when exceptions to it are so common and whether it was ever a pressing issue to begin with.

“I suspect the email username convention is an attempt to change the mindset in a way that will have a cultural impact not just on students, but also on faculty and the general institutional milieu of the college,” Lewis said. “I am on board with that general goal, but think it really needs to start with the faculty and administration, as I fear negative stigma may be needlessly suffered by students who do not graduate within the four year period.”

Leave a Reply