By Mary Reed
For the second year in a row, more freshmen have returned to campus for their sophomore year -- 81.5 percent returned this year, up from 80.4 percent in the 2008-09 school year.
Much of these gains over the past three years have taken place in University College, where undecided students reside until they select a major. For example, from 2006-07 to 2007-08, first- to second-year retention in University College rose from 63 percent to 71 percent. That rate is holding steady for this year.
University College Dean David Descutner attributes this increase to several factors, starting with learning communities, in which groups of first-year students are enrolled together in two or three shared classes fall quarter; they are often housed in the same residence hall as well.
"We know in University College the intervention with learning communities has declined probation rates and increased retention," Descutner said.
Descutner also attributes the increased retention rates to the now-required course UC 115, a freshman college success seminar in which students' academic advisers often do double duty as their instructors.
"In the first year (UC 115 was required), we cut the probation rate in half," Descutner said.
Finally, 140 peer mentors work with students who are enrolled in learning communities and UC 115.
"Those peer mentors are tremendously influential to undergraduates," Descutner said. "They're very skilled at how they shape student expectations."
Increased retention rates are not strictly a University College phenomenon. They are stable or up in eight out of the nine colleges across the university.
According to Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Craig Cornell, this is no accident.
"Over the past three years we've committed funds and efforts to several areas to increase retention strategically, and that includes our learning communities," he said. "At the same time, we've been able to recruit effectively to bring in stronger academically prepared classes that generally retain better."
Compared to just two years ago there has been growth in student academic success factors such as ACT scores, grade-point averages and students in the top 10 percent and 25 percent of their high school class rankings.
"For instance, our ACT composite for this year's freshman class is 23.8 compared to last year's 23.7 and the year before that it's 23.6," Cornell said.
Between 2000 and 2006, overall first-year retention rates declined about 1 percent yearly.
"This was a matter of some urgency," Descutner said, so the university's Vision Ohio strategic plan set a goal for first-year retention to stabilize at 78 percent in 2007-08 and to increase by one percentage point per year. So far, retention rates are outpacing this goal.