Freshman programs help raise retention

TCU’s retention rate for freshmen has risen from 81 percent in 2002 to 86 percent in 2007, according to the TCU Fact Book, and professors say it is because of better advising procedures, mentors and freshman programs.TCU has conducted research to see which students leave and why by calling those students for phone interviews.

“A lot of students call back, and the issues are generally related to something academic,” said Mike Scott, director of scholarships and financial aid. “Like they didn’t like their major or didn’t feel like they fit in.”

National retention research has found that students who engage academically and socially with their school are less likely to drop out or transfer. TCU’s goal is to get more students graduated, Scott said.

Keeping Tabs

Vision in Action programs at TCU, like College 101/Compass 101, focus on getting more freshmen to get involved on campus, Scott said.

“We found that students in a mentoring program really appreciate talking to someone on a personal basis,” said Cheryl Cantu-Mireles, project director for College 101/Compass 101: A Program to Enhance Student Retention.

College 101 is required for freshmen who have not achieved a 2.0 in their first semester, Cantu-Mireles said.

“College 101 helps jumpstart a successful career at college so students will, hopefully, stay at TCU,” Cantu-Mireles said.

Another new program designed to keep freshmen at TCU is called eFrog. This program gives first-year students a Web presence and is like TCU’s version of Facebook, said Patrick Miller, registrar and director of enrollment management.

EFrog starts communicating with potential students while they are still in high school through blogs, announcements and information on what is happening in Fort Worth and at TCU. It has had a lot of student participation, he said.

Easing the Transition

AddRan College of Humanities and Social Sciences has made changes to academic advising for students by hiring additional professional advisers for all premajors and first-year students with declared majors in the school, said Michael Butler, associate dean of AddRan.

“I think, as students come into the university making a transition from high school to college, advising needs to be more than just course selection,” he said.

Now, students don’t have to worry about tracking down faculty advisers because they know they have a place to go, Butler said.

Occasionally, Scott said, the reason some students do not return to TCU is cost.

Butler said even though tuition is on the rise, TCU is still a good buy and is priced in the lower third of private universities.

TCU is also attractive with its new facilities, and popular majors like business, communication and nursing are growing, Miller said.

But compared to Southern Methodist University and Baylor, TCU’s retention rates have been historically lower, Coghlan said.

The No. 1 reason for not retaining freshmen students is the lack of preparation for college level work, said Alan Seidman of Bedford, N.H., Center for the Study of College Student Retention.

“If you’ve never done a research paper in high school, you can’t do one in college,” he said.

Seidman said professors are responsible for telling students what it takes to be successful in their class, and if students don’t have the skills, then the professors should teach them.

“If we accept you into our institution, we should provide you with necessary skills to be successful,” he said.

Minority Retention

In most cases, minority students have lower retention and graduation rates than white students, and encouraging these students with high school mentor programs and adopt-a-school programs would help increase their retention in college, Seidman said.

He said professor interaction with potential college students and their families would help keep those students in college, especially minority students who may not have thought of attending college.

Many minority students don’t attend or end up dropping out of college because of they do not connect with the university and other students, he said.

He also said universities may be setting some minorities up for disappointment.

“Initial enthusiasms during the recruitment process just aren’t compatible with some institutions because each has a specific goal and community,” he said. “The bottom line is, if a student is told the university is diverse, but finds out people don’t look like him there, he thinks maybe there’s not enough commitment there.”

Minority students dropping out of college or not coming in the first place is a financial issue, said Darron Turner, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs.

He said they do not want a lot of loans and may end up coming one semester and leaving the next semester, then coming back and leaving again so graduation rates for minorities are generally lower.

Most private universities have a difficult time recruiting minority students, Turner said.

But, from 2003 to 2007, TCU’s Hispanic freshman population rose from 6 percent to 9 percent, while the white freshman population dropped from 82 percent in 2004 to 74 percent in 2007, according to the Center for Institutional Research.

TCU does not track what percentage of minority students drop out, Coghlan said.

Scott said TCU provides minority students with a support network so their retention rate is nearly 100 percent.