The August 19th issue of U.S. News &World Report has an article by Michael Bowler on the high drop-out rates in four-year colleges: (http://www.usnews.com/articles/education/best-colleges/2009/08/19/dropouts-loom-large-for-schools.html). At many universities, including UHD, drop-out rates by the end of the sophomore year approach or exceed 60%.
Bowler presents several interventions that have been developed at universities across the country, most of which UHD is already doing. Here are some of the solutions mentioned in the article.
1) Start college preparation early with orientation programs; (We already work closely with local high schools and middle schools and we offer orientation programs for freshmen, transfer students and international students.)
2) Revamp remedial learning with modular and 'accelerated learning.’ (We are doing this too.)
3) Develop concurrent enrollment. (We offer dual-credit courses at four nearby high schools and offer dual-enrollment options at local community colleges.)
4) Make sure no one falls through the cracks. (This is an area where we can improve.)
5) Make college more engaging. (We have projects under way through the Quality Enhancement Program and through our civic engagement and sustainability efforts.)
6) Expand online and hybrid courses. (We have made progress in this area, but we also have much work to do.)
Wednesday, when I met with the UHD Deans and the Provost, I hadn't seen the article in U.S. News &World Report, but all of us know retention and graduation rates are important areas where we need to improve. I reiterated a point I made before the staff of the Student Success and Enrollment Management Division last week --“When you think about it, our main mission as an institution is to help students succeed so they can achieve their dreams.” I have asked the Deans to launch discussions on how we might improve retention and progress to degree.
Nobody starts college because they want to drop out, especially these days. They come to college to pursue their dreams: to be a nurse, a teacher, a doctor, an astronaut, an engineer, an accountant or a lawyer. Those who fail or have to drop out postpone their dreams or, in some cases, never achieve them.
Worse, students quickly accumulate debt with loans, credit cards and unpaid bills. And, if they drop out with 'Ds', 'Fs' and 'Ws', it is difficult for them to get back into college and back on track.
So, we want to improve retention and graduation rates, which will take some thought and intervention. This year we are adding eight new advisers to help students navigate the curriculum and requirements for their majors.
Retaining students is also important to the institution. If you think about it, students bring revenue to the University. Add up the amount of money each student pays in tuition and fees, along with the amount provided to the institution through state appropriations. That is a lot of money.
Each UHD graduate invests, borrows or generates through appropriations about what it costs to buy a brand new BMW to receive a degree! That's just about what it costs on average to add one new staff position at UHD. Two students bring in about what it costs the university to add a new faculty line. Ten students will get you a long way to upgrading a lab. Clearly, it is critical to retain students, especially in difficult financial times.
Don't misunderstand me. I am certainly not saying that students are just like BMWs. We are not in higher education to make money or to generate resources. Nor do we want to think of students as commodities. Rather, as faculty and staff we entered our professions because we enjoy helping others succeed. We love teaching, research, service and because probably along the way someone encouraged us to get a college degree. That's why we are here. For most of us this is more than a job; it is a calling.
But, it is in our interest to improve student retention and graduation rates. Every student lost is a loss to society. They are valuable. They are cherished. They are our future. Society as a whole loses out when a student drops out, because that might be one less teacher, one less nurse, one less social worker or one less scientist.
Right now, UHD and other institutions like us, lose a lot of students. Some aren't prepared for college. Others have financial problems. They leave for different reasons. But, at present, UHD loses over 60% of its first-time freshmen by their fifth semester.
So, I have asked the deans and vice presidents to give thought to this problem. And, I will be asking the campus community to consider how we can dramatically improve retention and graduation rates. We must do a better job for the sake of our students. Let us all help students achieve their dreams.