University retention rate on the rise


    As administrators say the university is growing toward a better learning community, retention rates are increasing.

    Mike Scott, director of scholarships and financial aid, said TCU has risen three percentage points, from 83 percent retention to 86 percent, in the past three years.

    According to a report from the 2007 Student Success Initiative, the university hopes to reach 88 percent retention by 2010.

    Scott said the initiative began in 2005 as a way to help the university from a “physically sound aspect.”

    “When we started the initiative we did not think we had a problem with retention rates,” he said. “This is a big deal for us. The increase reflects how the university is doing what we’re supposed to do.”

    According to the report, each percentage point increase in retention means $410,000 in returns to the university.

    However, Scott said, those numbers can be misleading.

    “The money amount that the report gives does not account for the amount we give out for scholarships and financial aid,” he said. “That number is a broad gross tuition rate. We do not want students just for the money.”

    Chancellor Victor Boschini said high retention rates are a great reputation to have relating to both prospective students and parents.

    “Reputation is key because it sends a positive signal to our students and parents that we have a commitment when we graduate,” he said.

    For a lot of prospective students, Scott said, reputation is also based off of rankings.

    “When you look at certain rankings, such as US News, a big part of those is made up by retention,” Scott said. “As much as you hate it, a lot of people will base their decisions of which colleges to apply for off of the rankings.”

    According to the report, findings to date suggest that peer relationships are most important in the retention process.

    Cathy Coghlan , associate director of institutional research, said a study was sent to students about a match between expectations and experiences, which revealed students leaving after one semester do so because they haven’t made social connections.

    “A great example would be students in Greek organizations have higher retention than those that are not,” she said. “It is all about making those connections any way you can – sometimes those connections are not as visible as the Greek organizations.”

    Boschini agreed.

    “Some students may give you different excuses but usually the main reason for leaving is they do not feel connected,” he said. “It is definitely a challenge to get all students connected, but the students have to go out there and make an effort.”

    Scott said some students have left because of tuition increases, but this does not appear to significantly effect retention rates.

    “Basing retention off of tuition is a very difficult criterion to get your hands around,” he said. “A lot of students will say it is cost – it’s really not. It is easier for students to put the blame on tuition.”

    Since tuition and retention are rising at the same time, Boschini said he does not see tuition as a problem because schools with higher tuition often have higher retention.

    To combat the loss of students through transfer, Scott said, the university is starting an external recruit-back-program to begin this year.

    Scott said the university always follows up on students.

    “If a student does transfer to another school, we stay in touch with them by sending them information and personal phone calls,” he said.

    With two more percentage points to reach the final goal, Coghlan said, the next three years will be the most difficult.

    “We have already done what we think we have done – the obvious ways to raise retention,” she said. “These last points are going to be hard.”

    Scott said when the faculty sat down to look at how to raise retention they forgot a simple attempt: personally calling the students who had not enrolled for the following semester.

    “As crazy as it sounds, a major issue is students actually forget to sign up for classes,” he said. “Then we have the students who are in grade trouble and just freeze, and as many times as we try to help them, they just do not move forward.”

    Boschini, Coghlan and Scott all agreed to raise retention even more, it is going to take a joint effort from everyone on campus.

    “Next year we are actually going to have a faculty-wide common reading to get them all on one level,” Boschini said. “We now are going into the most difficult stages and it is going to take a combined effort out of everyone – campus, faculty, staff and students.”