Student retention rates are on the rise

The Oregon University System has announced that student retention rates—the number of freshman students returning to the same university for their sophomore year—have increased significantly.

The Oregon University System has announced that student retention rates—the number of freshman students returning to the same university for their sophomore year—have increased significantly. Retention rates statewide are at an all-time high of 82.4 percent. This rise in retention coincides with the highest enrollment rates in OUS’s history. 

Joe Holliday, OUS assistant vice chancellor for student success initiatives, said that the increase in student retention is due to several different factors, one of which is the current economy.

“People come back to college, often, when the job market is poor, and leave when the job market is good,” he said. “Students are staying in school, to some extent because that’s a better alternative than being unemployed.” 

In the past, Holliday has observed that larger enrollment rates usually correspond with a drop in retention. What makes these new results significant is the fact that OUS schools are not only enrolling record amounts of students, but also keeping them from one year to the next.

According to Holliday, the enrollment and retention statistics stated on the OUS website do not fully illustrate the real growth of OUS. The retention statistic only refers to freshman students returning for their sophomore year.

However, Holliday said that this year’s growth in enrollment is mostly due to transfer students, not new freshmen. 

In his experience, transfer students “retain and graduate in higher numbers than freshmen do.” 

Holliday is also a member of the OUS Inter-Institutional Council of Enrollment Managers, whose task is to strategize ways to increase student enrollment and retention. Each of the seven OUS universities has a representative present at council meetings. 

According to Holliday, because student retention issues lack the inherent competition between schools that enrollment evokes, university representatives are more willing to collaborate with each other. 

“Recruitment is one thing; that’s where the campuses, to some extent, compete with each other, but retention is an easier area to collaborate on because we’re all trying to hold on to students who have already chosen [their university],” Holliday said.  

According to PSU’s Student Affairs Outreach Coordinator J.R. Tarabocchia, PSU has taken several proactive steps to ensure student retention. These include mandatory orientation for incoming students, increased availability of academic advisers, more rigidity when following admissions standards and efforts to alter the public perception of the university. 

PSU has also expanded its student affairs offices to better support traditionally underrepresented students.

Both Holliday and Tarabocchia said that, statistically speaking, first generation college attendees, African Americans, Latinos and Native American students have much lower retention rates than other demographics. Therefore, systematically identifying at-risk and underrepresented students early in their college careers is key, Holliday said. This allows the advisers to give those students the support needed to keep them in the university.

According to Tarabocchia, PSU has hired 14 new academic advisers as part of a newly funded advising initiative. As a result, there are more opportunities for students to receive advising help. Given the size of PSU’s student population, the advising department—even with the new hires—is drastically understaffed. 

Additionally, at the beginning of this academic year, PSU instituted mandatory major department advising for all incoming freshmen.

New student orientation, including a preliminary advising session, is also mandatory. Taraboccia said that requiring incoming students to attend an orientation makes them aware of all the resources at their disposal, as well as how to utilize those resources. It also ensures that students get into the correct classes. 

Taraboccia said that a well-informed student is more likely to seek the help they require and less likely to fall through the cracks.

PSU is also adhering to the stated admissions requirements with more rigidity. 

“We should be graduating lots of students, not just letting them in the door,” Taraboccia said. 

According to Taraboccia, PSU’s reputation as a commuter school has led to the belief that the school admits almost everyone who applies. This idea, he said, is changing as President Wim Wiewel is making extensive efforts to make PSU a “destination school.” ?