Colleges Work To Improve Retention Rates

Compiled By CityTownInfo.com Staff
December 1, 2009

Many colleges and universities are taking steps to improve retention and graduation rates.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that at the University of South Florida, where only 48 percent of the students graduate within six years, officials have launched initiatives to boost the retention rate to 63 percent by 2012. The steps include enrolling students more likely to graduate, identifying and mentoring those who might drop out, providing more academic advisers and programs, and streamlining the path to graduation by ensuring that students don't take on excessive debt or course loads.

USF also implemented new procedures for freshmen, including putting more emphasis on applicants' high school curriculum and GPA rather than standardized test scores. Most freshmen are also now required to live on campus.

"The writing's on the wall," said Glen Besterfield, an associate dean in charge of academic success programs for undergrads at USF who was quoted by the St. Petersburg Times. "We're going to be there. But it takes six years."

Similarly, The Daily Athenaeum, the student publication at West Virginia University, reports that the school is in the process of hiring a director of retention and assessment.

"It's very important for someone to look at retention on almost a daily basis," said Elizabeth Dooley, associate provost for undergraduate academic affairs, who was quoted by the Athenaeum. "Until we find out what's going on, we're not going to have an impact."

WVU already has several programs aimed at helping retention and graduation rates, including enhancing freshman year and addressing the needs of first-generation students. At USF, the latter issue is particularly challenging: The St. Petersburg Times notes that over one-fifth of USF students are the first in their families to attend college, which greatly affects the amount it time it takes them to graduate.

Oregon universities are also addressing retention problems. The Oregonian reports that educators recently gathered at Portland State University to discuss strategies for preparing students for college and helping them on the path to graduation.

On the average, about 20 percent of Oregon college freshman do not return to school as sophomores. Moreover, about 40 percent of full-time freshmen will not graduate from Oregon institutions within six years.

"People are very interested not just in retention and graduation, but in how do you get student success in a state system that has resource issues and how do you do more with less," said Bob Kieran, assistant vice chancellor for research and planning for the Oregon University System, who was quoted by the Oregonian.

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