Retention summit draws 121 administrators from four states

The University of Tennessee at Martin hosted its third Skyhawk Regional Retention Summit May 22-23 at the Boling University Center.

The event included several talking sessions on subjects related to maintaining and improving student retention. This year’s summit featured discussion on retaining students who have been out of college for one or two years and about retaining adult students.

Each session featured speakers from colleges and universities around the region.

Some 121 people attended the two-day summit, representing four states: Tennessee, Alabama, Illinois and Kentucky.

Dr. Philip Acree Cavalier, the UTM provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, said the format of the retention summit is unusual.

“It is a little different from what normal academic conferences are, but I think that’s a part of why it works: because folks get to talk about things that they don’t usually talk about,” he said.

A major decrease in the number of college-bound students is expected to begin over the next few years. According to an article on, that is due to “a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession (of 2008).”

“Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period,” stated the article, published on Nov. 21, 2022. “But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping, and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it ‘the enrollment cliff.’”

Cavalier said the retention summit is not just a means for college and university personnel to present questions but also to share ideas and gain insight on how to bolster enrollment.

“Across institutions, we don’t have these conversations, and they’re valuable for a lot of reasons – not the least of which is that you realize that we are not alone in trying to work this out at our institution,” he said. “And, if we’re going to make sure that university enrollments do not dive as we get closer to this demographic cliff, we’re going to have to do a much better job of being ready to help adult learners, nontraditional learners and people coming back to school to succeed.

“One of the sessions (at this year’s retention summit) was about how do we, basically, re-recruit students who have been away for a year or two and are at a different spot in their lives and may be able to succeed now, where they weren’t able to when they were 18.”

The retention summit originated at UT Martin in 2019 but did not return until 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The next retention summit will be held on May 21-22, 2025.

More information about this year’s Skyhawk Regional Retention Summit and the lineup of speakers can be found at

For more information about the University of Tennessee at Martin, visit

PHOTO: Benjamin Ort (right), assistant director of First-Year Experience at the University of Tennessee-Martin, shares a laugh with people at his table during a discussion at the Skyhawk Regional Retention Summit. Heidi Busch, assistant professor of library science, takes notes of the discussion.

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