UI officials say programs boosted retention rates

BY ERIC CLARK | OCTOBER 31, 2012 6:30 AM

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Because 2011-12 first-year University of Iowa students returned for a second year this fall at a rate of 86 percent, UI officials credited such programs as the Office of Retention and OnIowa for the high percentage. In fall 2011, the retention rate was 85.6 percent.

This spring, the Retention Office implemented a mandatory survey for freshmen using a program called MAP-Works. The survey, taken in between the students’ third and fifth week of classes, asked them questions regarding their academic activities and their living arrangements, among other topics.

Michelle Cohenour, the director of the Retention Office, said the survey cost the UI approximately $60,000.

“We got around 6,600 responses, and we went through and worked on every one individually,” she said. “From our end, it’s been valuable to hear the students’ voices. We’re making sure they aren’t falling on deaf ears.”

Results of the survey were issued to the UI as individualized reports and helped officials identify students who were at risk to leave the university, as well as students who may require personal help adjusting to college life.

Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Beth Ingram said students often leave campus for reasons that are fixable, such as owing small amounts of money and lack of a connection to the campus and its resources.

“We knew based on research that some students felt disconnected from campus in their first semester,” she said. “As a first-year student, you don’t always know what you want.”

Ingram said the UI started efforts to increase first-year student retention three years ago by meeting with faculty and students, discussing ways to better connect to first-year students, as well as starting initiatives. While the UI has only used the survey once, planning dates back to those initial meetings.

“The biggest reason for implementing the survey was to help the students,” she said. Ingram said the state Board of Regents previously set a future goal for freshmen to return to the UI for a second year at a rate of around 88 percent.

The UI has seen an increase in the retention rate, as the five-year rate, which was calculated in 2011, was 84.2 percent, approximately 2 points lower than this year’s.

UI freshman Sam Saliu said he knows about a few students who plan on transferring, but he isn’t one of them.

“I don’t have any reasons not to,” he said. “I’ve just gotten used [to the campus].”

Saliu said the UI has succeeded in making him feel comfortable away from home.

While the survey seems to have succeeded in helping officials connect with first-year students, officials have yet to determine whether the survey will be used again next year.

Cohenour said the UI is still in the process of making that decision by gathering feedback from students and faculty.

“In terms of retaining students, I think we’re making good strides,” she said. “We should have a formal decision by the spring of next year.”

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