Retention Critical to Enrollment, Degree Completion

Retention is increasingly important to the enrollment equation, as declining high school graduation rates expand the challenge and reach of recruitment efforts. And because degree completion is likely to factor heavily in the state formula funding model for higher education next year, all campus departments have a stake in the university's ability to retain more students across degree levels and disciplines.

The NMU Enrollment Management Network has recommended Academic Affairs create a retention committee that can help academic departments develop retention strategies, address high fail-rate courses and programs with low graduation, mandate placement of academically at-risk students in developmental coursework or implement a system to ensure placement in academic support courses, and revise and reissue the academic feedback system to ensure a higher rate of faculty participation.

This summer, the university began Compass placement tests for restricted admits to determine if they need first-semester support classes in writing, reading and math. Paul Duby (Institutional Research) said the testing will become mandatory for all incoming freshmen in fall 2012. Northern’s First Year Experience (FYE), a program that includes a freshman seminar designed to ease the transition to college, is available to all students and required for restricted admits in the first semester. The university is working to expand the program to a second semester.

“The FYE does make a difference,” Duby said. “Since 1995, the retention and graduation rates for those who go through the program are 5-7 percent higher than for those who don’t. An enhanced FYE experience for at-risk students should widen the gap even more.”

Third-semester retention for the 2010 freshman class increased by 2 percent, according to Duby, which means 25 more students returned this fall compared with 2009 freshmen.

In a recent presentation to the NMU Board of Trustees, Duby said nearly 84 percent of first-time, full-time new baccalaureate freshmen in fall 2010 achieved “clear status” with a C or better average.

“That’s the highest rate ever when you compare data from 1993 to the present,” said Duby. “It is an important figure because it’s the best predictor of third-semester retention. Also, the second-semester clear status was nearly 79 percent, another high. Last year’s freshmen also recorded the most impressive GPAs, at 2.81 and 2.91 for the first two semesters. The academic credentials of our new freshmen, which include high school GPAs and ACT scores, are as strong as those from last fall, so we would expect positive things from this year’s group as well.”

NMU has a wide range of degree offerings compared with other universities, beginning at the certificate/diploma/vocational level. Duby said this expanded mission impacts academic credentials, along with overall retention and graduation rates.



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Updated: September 15, 2011

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