University looks to improve freshmen retention rates

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University looks to improve freshmen retention rates

Alexa Murdock & Matt Escamilla, Managing Editor & Staff Reporter

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Increasing retention rates by 10 percent is a goal CWU hopes to achieve over the next five years.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, CWU’s 2016-2017 retention rate was 73 percent. In 2016, the national average rate for public 4-year institutions was 81.1 percent. Universities in western states such as Washington and California have a slightly higher average at about 86 percent.

In his State of the University Address given in January, President James Gaudino addressed the need for the university to help students reach their goals. Gaudino’s objective is to bring CWU’s retention rate up to 80 percent over the next five years.

“This is an ambitious goal, but also an essential one,” Gaudino said in his State of the University speech.

A school’s retention rate is the percentage of first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at the school the next year, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. Students who transfer into or out of a university, graduate students, part-time students, or returning students are not included in this rate.

CWU’s retention rates are calculated from a census taken on the 10th day of each fall term, according to Associate Provost for Undergraduate and Faculty Affairs Gail Mackin. The data is compared with that of previous years to determine the current rate.

Tuition affordability and academic advising are two major contributing factors to a university’s retention rate. While Gaudino acknowledged CWU’s ability to keep costs low, money is still a limiting factor for some students.

“We cannot rest until no student leaves because he or she cannot pay,” Gaudio said in his speech.

A strong advising system is key for student success. Gaudino called for the university-wide development of an advising system that can meet the needs of each individual student while guiding them through their educational goals.

According to Associate Dean of Student Development and Achievement Aaron Brown, helping students find areas of interest to pursue academically via advising will not only increase retention rates; it will help them find their purpose in life.

“When a student is connected more to their purpose, they complete their degree at a higher rate,” Brown said.

The university currently only has one career counselor per college. Brown would also like to see the addition of a counselor that focuses on helping exploratory students.

CWU also offers academic help in an effort to retain successful students, such as the Peer-Assisted Learning Tutoring Program, the Writing Center and the Math Bridge Program, which is designed to save students time and money by bringing them into college-level math courses faster. Brown said that he has seen an increase in freshman students using tutoring services from past years.

Mackin believes it is not just one department or problem that leads to a student not returning to CWU.

For a student to officially withdraw from the university, they need to fill out a form at Registrar Services. Jobs, family and personal reasons are among some of the reasons students leave, according to Mackin.

“Students come in [to CWU] with challenges in their personal lives, which poses challenges for us being able to serve their needs,” Mackin said.

Enrollment growth in the past few years calls for more concentrated efforts for the university to understand what the issues are regarding retention rates, Mackin said. In a group of first-time students, approximately 40 percent are first-generation, 90 percent file a FAFSA, and 30 percent come from a diverse cultural background, all of which are factors which may impact a student’s educational goals, she said.

She also noted that students are accessing mental health services at the Student Medical and Counseling Clinic at higher rates than in the past, but she believes mental health is just one of the many reasons a student might not continue their education.

“To ensure that our retention rates improve and our students are successful is a very holistic approach,” Mackin said.

To help transfer students coming into CWU, the university is in the process of developing plans for a transfer and transition center, according to Mackin. The center would serve as a hub for students to get information and help in order to make a smooth transition into the university.

“We have had higher retention rates in the past. There’s no reason to believe that we can’t be there in the near future,” Mackin said.

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