A few thoughts on the premise for the survey, specifically as it was driven by Minnesota retention numbers. First, the status of MN over the years:
Prior to 2006, things were small and stagnant. So we’ll use that year as our starting point. We enjoyed a great period of growth, with very small numbers of retiring teams. Even through to this year, with 221 active teams (as of when I last updated my spreadsheet… that number may have changed!), we’ve never had more than 9 teams retire in a single year. Looking over the past 5 years, we’ve had a retention rate of more than 95% each year. In fact, we’ve never had the total number of teams drop from one year to the next.
What about new team recruitment? Well, that’s getting progressively harder. If you look at the official school enrollment numbers from the MSHSL, the 222 largest high school school in MN has 257 students. Lets face it - it’s easy to find 30 people interested in robots in a school of 3,000. It’s much, much harder to do so in a school of 300. For one, the recruitment pool is 10% as big. Also, speaking from experience, when you get to smaller schools, you tend to get students that are involved in more activities as well. In a large school, people tend to specialize more, as there’s only so much room on each team or club. In a small school, you have the same need for numbers involved with each activity, but fewer students… so they get involved with more, get busier schedules that can make involvement in a year-round activity (like many robotics teams) more difficult. So, that can help cover recruitment issues many of our teams are facing.
What about funding? Well, the number of teams has grown a lot… but the amount of money out there hasn’t. There’s more competition for funding than there was 10 years ago. Many of the big local companies are getting more particular with who they fund as well - they’re shifting money out of the suburbs and into inner city or rural schools. They’re looking for diverse teams, made of up minorities, under-privileged students, and students on free and reduced lunch. This can cause big headaches for some other teams - I know, we’ve been working through them for several years ourselves, and it’s impacted who we target with our outreach, so we can continue to meet our sponsors interests.
How about mentor retention? This can be tough. Over the past ~5 years or so, we’ve seen a “changing of the guard”, so to speak - the energetic mentors that helped so many teams get started ~8-13 years ago are moving on, and others are needed to fill the void left behind. Those mentors aren’t leaving because of anything FIRST-related. Maybe they got a new job and had to move. Maybe they retired, maybe they had kids… there are numerous reasons that all sum up under the heading of “life changes”. As for finding new mentors… well, with more teams than ever before, the competition for mentors is pretty fierce. It’s largely the same story as funding - more competition for a limited set of resources.
As for school support… that can be hit or miss, and something that every team needs to work on, every year. Even if you have great school support, you need to work to keep it great. It’s not just having a relationship with the current person in charge… it’s forming relationships with anyone that could replace them should they move on, so your team isn’t impacted by their departure.
There’s a lot that goes into team sustainability. The results of the survey aren’t really surprising, to be honest. The problem areas identified are the ones you would expect, the ones I think many of us have known about and worried about for our own teams for many years.
The question is… Now what? You’ve got this survey, and the expected results… what do you do about it? How do you use it to help teams?