U student retention rate increases to all-time

Travis Reed

University reports indicate that the percentage of returning students at the Twin Cities campus is at its highest level since World War II, although colleges nationwide have seen their retention rates plummet since the early 1990s.
The percentage of returning freshmen from the 1997-98 school year is 84.6 percent, highest in the state of Minnesota and well above the current national average of about 76 percent.
The newest figures mark the fifth straight year that the University has experienced an increase in freshman-to-sophomore retention.
“I’d like to believe the retention rates reflect the notion that students are finding what they want here,” said Craig Swan, an economics professor and vice provost for undergraduate education. “That reflects the investment that the University has made in undergraduate education, and that, in turn, reflects the efforts of presidents Yudof and Hasselmo.”
University officials attribute the increase in returning students to a stronger focus on undergraduate education and student involvement.
Additionally, incoming students seem to be better prepared academically. When the University established high-school preparation requirements in 1993, only 17 percent of incoming students met the criteria. Now nearly 90 percent of freshman entrants successfully meet the goals.
“We’ve done a lot internally over the past decade,” said J. Peter Zetterberg, senior analyst for institutional research and reporting. “The University has paid a lot more attention to improving things for undergraduate students.”
University officials said efforts to improve the undergraduate experience include better advising, improved course access and additional initiatives designed to build a sense of community campus. For instance, incoming freshmen are guaranteed on-campus housing in residence halls.
The University’s efforts to improve new student satisfaction also include an increased focus on learning-living communities, student residences with a community-based emphasis. Programs like the First-Year Experience have increased the freshman retention rate from 69 to 74 percent at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
“In particular, there’s strong interest in expanding learning-living opportunities with regard to the communities that students find in residence halls,” Swan said. “Students in residence halls have higher retention. It helps them make a connection to the University and makes it easier to participate in life at the University.”

Travis Reed covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at 627-4070×3235.