Keeping Freshmen Around

January 28, 2005

After freshmen go home for their December break, a major concern for many institutions of higher education is making sure they come back.

Mary Stuart Hunter, director of the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience, says that many institutions have started programs based on the "urban myth" that students will have made up their minds about whether or not to stay after their first six weeks in college.

Retention rates vary greatly by type of institution; but while many colleges examine retention only long term (how many students eventually graduate?) or at the end of each year, we decided to take a look, as the spring semester starts, at how many students don't come back for a second semester.

Hunter says that generally, "the more selective the institution, the larger their endowment, the higher their retention rate is." On the other hand, large public colleges with open admissions, or with less competitive admissions standards, tend to have lower rates.

An informal survey of institutions on what percentage of freshman return in January backed up Hunter's view.

College % of Freshmen Who Return in January
Columbia University 99.2
Colorado College 98.9
Lawrence University 97.2 (trimester system)
Clemson University 97
North Carolina State University 96.5
San Francisco State University 95.4
Ohio State University 94.2
University of Washington 93
Southern Missouri State University 88
University of Nevada at Reno 75

Hunter says that many institutions are taking creative approaches to helping students make a successful transition into their first year in college.

Colleges offer summer orientations, first year seminars, and "learning communities," wherein students take various courses with the same group of students, helping them make critical friendships and connections.

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