Texas Tech’s freshman enrollment is growing at record levels, but that is not stopping the university from placing an emphasis on improving upon the number of freshmen who return for their sophomore year.
A university’s retention rate is defined as the percentage of freshman students who return for their sophomore year.
In Fall 2014, 83.47 percent of Fall 2013 freshmen returned to Tech, which is the highest retention rate for Tech since 2005, according to Tech’s Institutional Research website, and set a nine-year high in its retention rate.
Juan Muñoz, senior vice president for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement and vice provost for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs, said universities view retention rates as strong barometers for future graduation rates and overall university success.
Tech’s retention rate had been relatively stagnant over the past decade before experiencing positive growth over the past two years, he said.
“The university was a bit flat in terms of its first-year retention rate, but in these last two years, we have improved significantly to just under 84 percent,” Muñoz said. “We are moving in the right direction to reach our goal of 90 percent.”
The university has set goals of a 90 percent retention rate and a 70 percent graduation rate, Muñoz said.
Tech is currently rolling out an unprecedented amount of plans and initiatives to help achieve those two goals, he said.
“We have the Provost Retention Task Force, which is populated by approximately 27 members of the colleges, auxiliary units and administration support units,” he said. “We have never had a retention task force of that size and that diversity, ever.”
Muñoz said Tech is currently piloting the Student Success Collaborative, a retention application tool created by the Education Advisory Board.
The university has already seen a small uptick in retention since using the SSC, he said, and plans to fully implement the application in the summer and fall semesters of 2015.
“The Student Success Collaborative is an agency headquartered in Washington, D.C. that we have contracted with to create an adviser student facing platform to dramatically improve our retention persistence and graduation,” Muñoz said.
Patrick Hughes, associate vice provost of Undergraduate Education, said Tech will have to use a holistic approach of plans and initiatives to increase the university’s retention rate.
Most universities, including Tech, think of student retention in two main ways: high touch and high tech, he said.
“High-touch interventions are anything that puts a human being in front of a student,” Hughes said. “High-tech are these applications that try and help us organize data and find patterns so that we can better help students succeed.”
The university is able to combine both high-touch and high-tech aspects with the SCC application that will be used university-wide, he said.
Hughes expects the application to be successful in increasing Tech’s retention rate, he said.
“The Student Success Collaborative provides that high-tech solution by taking years of student success data and making it meaningful to an adviser,” he said, “who then sits with a student and goes over the several opportunities the student has based on that data.”
Cathe Nutter, director of University Advising, said advising plays a critical role in helping freshmen return for their sophomore year.
Helping students decide the right major for themselves is arguably the most important factor, she said.
“I think the biggest issue we have from the advising standpoint is identifying the student’s best fit major,” Nutter said. “Making certain that students are in majors that make sense with their strengths, their talents, their goals and their values does a lot for retention purposes because it keeps them motivated to want to be here.”
The SCC application has helped advisers take the initiative to reach out to students who are not performing well in their classes or are at a higher risk of dropping out, Nutter said.
Long distances from their home or a lack of overall preparedness for college are often the reasons a number of Tech first-year students do not return to school, she said.
“What we see in a lot of students that don’t return their sophomore year is that they want to transfer closer to home because Lubbock is far away from home for so many students,” Nutter said. “For others, many were not prepared for the academic or personal requirements of college.”
Nutter said academic advising can help students not only identify what obstacles are in place for them to return to school, but also help provide them with resources to overcome those obstacles.
The advisers at Tech are heavily invested in student success, she said, and are excited about Tech’s plans to increase freshman retention.
“We have a lot of good initiatives in place and a lot of good ideas right now for improving the freshman retention rate,” Nutter said. “I think the more students know that academic advisers are really here to assist them with resources and study skills and not just be a scheduling tool, the more successful students can be.”