BGeX is useful, but freshman need more to keep them here

Brian Kutzley and Brian Kutzley

Bowling Green has a rather infuriating problem.

Apparently a large number of our incoming students never make it to graduation. When I was first recruited by a political science professor to be a peer facilitator at the end of my sophomore year, she explained to me the purpose of the BGeX program is presumably to encourage freshman interaction by giving them a small class and a role model. They then can take that to their fellow students so well that they will keep their grades up and never even consider transferring away.

While I applaud the intent of this program – it has been recognized in various publications as an innovative outreach – I feel like we are essentially blaming the waiter because we ordered the wrong dish. Let me explain.

It is possible that the University’s retention rate is poor because the faculty and administration have somehow failed incoming students. However, I am more inclined to believe that the bulk of the responsibility falls on, surprisingly, the incoming students.

BGeX has attempted to create a shortcut by giving students an early group of friends with, ideally, the same interests. Unfortunately, however, unless BGeX becomes outright invasive and requires outside get-togethers on regular occasions, it is up to the students whether they will ever make anything of this network. So while it might be too early to tell, I have a suspicion that very few of these future graduating seniors will accredit their success to BGeX.

That said, please note that I am not trying to tear down the program itself. I think it is a great idea with a lot of benefits, but I also think it cannot function alone. Potentially, it has a great deal of help.

There are literally hundreds of student groups on campus. They range from intramural sports to common interests, politics, special interests, religious pursuit and quite a few I have undoubtedly forgotten.

Every year at Campus Fest these groups give their sales pitch to anyone who will listen, and hope desperately that someone new will show up at the next meeting, event or outing.

Here is the kicker though: They are rarely successful. Even those that acquire new members often lose them within a month to apathy or time conflict with a favorite TV show.

Obviously there is some aspect of speculation to that statement, however I personally have tried out or worked with something in the ballpark of a dozen groups before finding the one I could really get involved in, and in each one I saw the same trend. A large group of freshmen would bolster the ranks and then quickly lose interest, and the club would dwindle to its stoic veterans and maybe a handful of its more passionate newcomers.

Last fall, an outside representative explained to my club that at most schools, a prominent organization should be able to recruit 1 percent of their student body, which at Bowling Green came out to 161 members out of 16,100 undergraduates.

Yet time and again, my organization and the others I have kept in touch with have to struggle to get 25 members to show up at a meeting. So here is some slightly suspect math to consider. If we have approximately 300 organizations on campus, with perhaps 20 members per meeting – and assuming no overlap – there are only 6,000 students active in clubs. That’s barely over one-third of the campus.

So perhaps the reason we have such a problem with students dropping out and transferring is more a fault of the students than the University. I guess the moral of the story is be careful whom you blame. The University provides access to every activity you could ever want – all you have to do is find it. For a shortcut, go to the school’s Web site and use the pull-down bar to go to the Student Organization page [under “Student Life”] and call the Office of Campus Involvement to figure out when the next meeting is.

Also, do not be afraid to walk in halfway through a semester. You might not get an immediate job, but I can guarantee a new member is always a welcome sight.

So please, help BGeX make Bowling Green more than a series of classrooms and bars. Take the time out of your TV schedule – invest in a VCR if you must – and try out a few new things. You might just figure out why it is called a campus community.