November 27, 2012

Freshman Retention: How can your institution help new students; a Higher Ed perspective.

Nov. 27, 2012 at 10:51 AM | By Robynn Anton | Comment Count

With the current state and national focus on student retention and time to degree completion, colleges and universities are searching for economical, proactive solutions that aid advisors and students in making crucial decisions pertaining to freshman attrition, retention and graduation planning.Freshman Student Retention

According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (2011),  over one-third of all freshmen enter college unprepared and in need of remedial classes.  This isn’t stated to place blame on the high schools, but more importantly, to encourage universities to take a look at their students’ mental and emotional preparedness as they enter college.  The study also states that the majority of high school students planning on going to college do not necessarily see themselves graduating from college.

With as many as one in three freshmen dropping out of college before their sophomore year, it is crucial that institutions equip themselves, and especially their newest students, for post-secondary success. 

Common reasons for freshman attrition:

  • Academic struggles
  • No clear intention or goal to graduate in the first place
  • Financial burden
  • Loneliness
  • Negative campus experience

Why focus on freshman retention?

Universities realize that although a freshman applicant may fit the mold, college is an entirely  different entity than high school. Student behavior and attitudes change, what a student mastered in high school may not be equivalent to what he/she will master on their own in college.

It is up to instituions to determine how best to prepare freshman students for all of the changes taking place not only academically, but emotionally as they are given more freedoms and responsibilties over their futures.

With this in mind, the first thing to consider when evaluating current year over year retention and degree completion rates is, “What are the expectations and desires of the students that are enrolling and coming to our school?”

Colleges and universities must partner with their students from the start, orienting them to their new situation, evaluating their behaviors and class performance, helping them to focus on their goals and what is important for their futures, and providing a clear path to graduation.

A Push for Institutional Effectiveness

The issue of freshman attrition goes beyond just individual circumstance. Legislative discussions regarding funding based on graduation rates and other measures of institutional effectiveness are starting to occur. Federal and state governments are looking at the issue of institutional effectiveness for several reasons including the direct correlation to student loan debt. Student loan debt is now higher than ever before, trumping credit card debt at $914 billion. If students don’t graduate, it becomes more likely they will be unable to land jobs to pay off debt, resulting in a cycle of perpetuating financial distress for both the individual and the nation.

Now is the time to stop and ask, “Is my institution prepared to support students, giving them a clear path to completing their degree?” Many colleges and universities have strategic plans focused on freshman orientation, early alerts, student advising, retention, and degree completion. Do you?

What are some of the things your institution is doing to better prepare freshman, and all of your students, with the intent to guide and create a clear path to graduation?

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