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UI follows retention trends

BY NINA EARNEST | JANUARY 27, 2011 7:10 AM

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The University of Iowa is following a national trend of increasing first- to second-year retention rates recorded in an ACT survey.

Overall college retention rates, among all classes of higher education, remained “relatively stable,” according to ACT’s recently released annual report on American community colleges and universities. But four-year public rates dipped from 72.7 percent in 2005 to 70.9 in 2008 before climbing to 73.9 now.

The UI, like other colleges and universities nationwide, is placing more emphasis on retaining first-year students, said UI Registrar Larry Lockwood. A higher retention rate benefits schools financially and contributes to the public good.

“You brought those students here,” Lockwood said. “Why wouldn’t you try to retain those students?”

And even a 1 percent increase in retention at the UI provides substantial tuition revenue.

An average of 83 percent of the UI’s first-year students returned for their sophomore years over the span of a decade. But concentrated efforts to keep students on campus increased the number to 86.28 percent during the 2009-10 school year.

Despite the rise, the UI’s retention rates remain among the lowest in the Big Ten.

Lockwood attributed the low retention rate to the university’s comparatively low admission standards, and experts agreed.

“Schools with higher selectivity in their admissions standards tend to perform better in terms of retention and graduation rates than schools with less selectivity,” said ACT spokesman Ed Colby.

The UI is not the only Iowa school following trends in the ACT survey. Students returning from their freshman year at two-year colleges increased from 53 percent in 2005 to 56 percent currently.

Colby said ACT officials are speculating affordability likely played a role in the jump.

“[Students] may just see a clearer path to a job at a two-year institution, giving them incentive to finishing their degree,” he said.

Officials at numerous Iowa community colleges reported an increase. Des Moines Area Community College climbed to 55 percent, and Kirkwood remained steady at 60 percent during the 2009-10 school year.

“With small classes, you’re able to connect and hopefully step up and help them before it’s too late,” said Kristie Fisher, the vice president of enrollment at Kirkwood.

Only private four-year colleges saw decreasing retention rates. Private retention rates dropped from 75 percent in 2005 to 72 percent currently.

“In tough economic times, that affordability can play a pretty big role in just being able to afford to come back in a second year,” Colby said.

But the UI, along with other Iowa colleges, intends to push for higher retention rates.

The UI’s first director of retention, Michelle Cohenour, said the UI and Hawkeye Community College are planning to cohost an Iowa retention conference on April 8.

“Students change every year,” she said. “Their needs change every year. We’re just trying to stay current and share information.”


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