Declining student retention rates prompt a university reaction

Editor-in-Chief

The number of undergraduate students who return to St. Edward’s University after they complete their freshman year has steadily decreased since 2010. 

Eighty-one percent of freshman who enrolled at St. Edward’s in 2010, now juniors, returned in 2011 for their sophomore year, compared to 78.6 percent of the 2011 freshman class, now sophomores, who came back to the university in fall 2012.

Freshman retention at St. Edward’s is higher than the national average among peer institutions, administrators said. Additionally, the four-year and six-year graduation rates are higher than national norms.

Even so, the matter is of concern for the administration. Associate Dean of Students Nicole Trevino recently took on a new position as Director of Freshman Retention programs, created to examine and evaluate the programs and initiatives currently in place to help retain students beyond freshman year and until graduation.

“We’re taking a look at the entire campus and asking ourselves how we can do better and how can we help students to be successful in this area. Overall our goal is to help students be successful,” Trevino said. “Ultimately, we want them to graduate.”

Trevino and other administrators will conduct research to answer questions such as why students leave the university and where they go if they leave before they graduate.

“My role will help to thoroughly examine the effectiveness of all that’s occurring,” Trevino said. “When you think about it, everyone touches retention in some way … It involves a lot of collaboration, and ultimately that’s already going on.”

This includes retention initiative programs designed specifically for freshmen carried out by Academic Planning and Support Services, APSS, such as Academic Explorers, Effective College Learning and Freshman Year Seminars.

Greg MacConnell, director of Academic Support and Retention Programs in APSS, said students who withdraw from the university commonly cite finances or wanting to study in a major not offered at St. Edward’s as reasons for leaving.

“What I would say in my nine years here is that I don’t hear students saying ‘I hate St. Ed’s’,” MacConnell said. 

Other reasons for students leaving the university include being far away from home or wanting a different kind of social environment, such as Greek life. 

MacConnell also said he finds students are less willing to take out loans to cover the cost of education as people question the value of higher education due to trends in the media and the economy.

Additionally, schools across the nation are having issues with retention.

The U.S. News and World Report published a list of average freshman retention rates for students enrolling from fall 2007-2010 in universities across the nation. 

St. Edward’s reported an average freshman retention rate of 83 percent, compared to a high of 93 percent for Santa Clara University and a low of 44 percent for Texas A&M University–Texarkana among schools listed within the Regional Universities in the West category.

Across town, the University of Texas at Austin reported 92 percent of students returned after freshman year, and 52 percent of freshman were retained at Huston-Tillotson University. Southwestern University in Georgetown retained an average of 85 percent of freshman between 2007-2010, and St. Mary’s University in San Antonio said 78 percent of freshman came back for their sophomore year.

“There is never going to be 100 percent retention. There’s always going to be students that leave,” MacConnell said of retention at St. Edward’s.

Trevino said it is important to find out where the university can improve to perhaps raise freshman retention rates.

“We have an institutional responsibility to evaluate and make sure that we’re constantly improving,” Trevino said.