More freshmen are sticking around

The University’s first-year retention rate reached a new high with the freshman class of 2013, new data show.

Parker Lemke

They leave for many reasons: financial concerns, family issues or worries the University of Minnesota isn’t a good fit.

But now, more University freshmen are making it through their first year than ever before.

Of first-year students who came to the University in fall 2013, 92.6 percent returned this year — an increase of 2.1 percentage points over the previous freshman class.

During the same year, the retention rate for first-year students of color rose to 92.63 percent — edging out the average for the first time.

University President Eric Kaler highlighted the numbers in a report to the Board of Regents last week.

“I am very heartened by this data, which indicates that our students — from all backgrounds — like it here and want to stay here,” Kaler told the regents.

The figures come eight years after University regents set a goal to hit a 90 percent first-year retention rate, said Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education. The University hit that goal with the class that entered in 2008, McMaster said.

First-year retention rates are important to maintaining graduation rates, he said.

“Students who do persist into the sophomore year are much more apt to stay and graduate than not,” McMaster said. “The first year is just critical for their success.”

The higher rates have also increased the University’s standing among its Big Ten peers in first-year retention, McMaster said.

“We’ve gone from basically last place into the middle of the pack now,” McMaster said. “Our goal is to continue, over the next few years, to nudge up that first-year retention number.”

McMaster cited several reasons for the higher rate, including stronger applicants, a longer orientation, freshman-specific courses, improved access to classes and the President’s Emerging Scholars Program, which admits and gives scholarships to low-income students.

He said retaining minority students is an important part of narrowing the achievement gap between white and non-white students in college and K-12 schools.

Black Student Union president Mike Ampaabeng said his group also focuses on retaining students.

“One of our pillars is promoting excellence — excellence [meaning] staying in school,” Ampaabeng said, adding that the group uses a mix of community service and campus involvement.

The new figures come months after Kaler announced the Retaining all Our Students initiative, which McMaster said deals specifically with retaining low-income students. But it’s too soon to tell how it will play a part in increasing retention rates, he said.

McMaster and Ampaabeng both said they still see room for progress.

“We’re working harder to try and attain international black students, as well as black students [who] maybe haven’t heard about the Black Student Union,” Ampaabeng said.

McMaster said he’d like to see retention stretch beyond students’ first years.

“We have to make sure we’re vigilant, so that this will mean, down the line, the same graduation rates as well,” he said.