Tuesday, April 05, 2005

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So how does one increase retention rates at a university? Jay Matthews suggests it has mostly to do with monitoring and mandatory study sessions.

...researchers say about half of U.S. students starting college acquire a degree within six years; for students who start in four-year schools, the graduation rate goes up to about 60 percent. And at many colleges, the graduation rate for blacks is 20 percentage points lower than it is for whites.

Many experts, such as Steinbach, say the best way to improve college graduation rates is to strengthen education from kindergarten through 12th grade. Many colleges and universities, however, also have raised graduation rates by changing their procedures.

Florida State, for instance, is one of the few big universities whose black students' six-year graduation rate, 61.3 percent, is almost as high as the rate for its white students, 63.9 percent. One important reason, an Education Trust report said, is the university's full-time student advisers, who do not sit in their offices waiting for problems to walk in but follow a policy of contacting every student at least three times a semester by e-mail, phone or in person.

When University of Notre Dame science professors noticed that a significant number of students, particularly minorities, were failing or dropping out of its freshman chemistry course, the report said, they set up alternative classes for low-performing students that covered the same material and included mandatory study group sessions. That raised the freshman success rate by 50 percent.
Now this would imply some things that SCSU has been loth to try. For one, tracking student attendance in classes. Had I had that kind of feedback on my advisees I could approach students before they ended up with 4 F's and a withdrawal I just was cleaning advisee folders today and found five such; there was no mechanism other than a transcript that comes months after the end of the semester, by which time the student is out of town discovering the joys of a Fryolator.

There is of course a concern, that in this process standards were changed. We won't know that, of course. But this should be no surprise: If you want greater student retention, you need to put resources to the purpose of preventing student failure. Just adding more classes doesn't help.