Spring retention rate rises despite economy

Even with tough economic conditions around the country, the percentage of freshmen returning for the spring semester has increased for the third year in a row.

The percentage of freshmen who returned for the spring semester rose to 96 percent this year from 94 percent last year, said Mike Scott, director of scholarships and student financial aid.

Scott said a variety of factors contributed to the rise in retention rates, including an increase in money for student financial aid.

“It was perfect timing with what happened with the economy,” Scott said. “Had we not had the increase we would have been in trouble.”

Scott said the rise is a good indication that the official retention rate taken next fall will also rise.

The official retention rate last fall for the 2007 freshman class was 86.3 percent, compared to the 2006 freshmen class rate of 85.8 percent, he said.

The official retention rate measures the percentage of the freshman class that returns to the university in the fall.

According to the TCU Fact Book, in 2006, the university’s retention rate was 83 percent, Baylor University’s was 83 percent and Southern Methodist University’s was 87 percent. That was the last year data were available for all three schools.

Retention rates became a top priority for the university four years ago, Scott said.

Chancellor Victor Boschini said he was surprised by the increase in the spring retention rate.

“I’m just happy any time retention improves,” Boschini said. “It’s a really hard variable to get our fingers around, so as long as it’s going up, I’m happy.”

Scott said the total number of undergraduate students who re-enrolled for the spring semester was 6,928, up from 6,855 last year.

Deidra Turner, associate director of the Center for Academic Services, said two programs, College 101 and Compass 101, were created four years ago to help increase student retention.

College 101 is a mandatory one-day workshop for first-year students who are on academic warning or academic probation, Turner said. The program teaches students what went wrong and what they can do to have a more successful semester, Turner said.

Compass 101 is a continuation of College 101 and pairs each student with a mentor who helps him or her through the semester, she said.

Nick Whitesell, assistant dean of Campus Life, said another program aimed at increasing retention is the Early Alert System put in place by Campus Life. The program allows faculty members to e-mail concerns about students, Whitesell said.

These concerns include students’ class performance, class attendance and any other problem areas they might notice, Whitesell said.

Campus Life will filter the e-mails and determine whether to contact students and have them receive help through various campus programs such as the Center for Academic Services, Whitesell said.

The e-mail system went live last week and has already received more than 100 concerns, Whitesell said.

Boschini said the university has put a lot of effort into student retention, and he is pleased with the direction it is taking.

“I think we should commit that if we admit you to TCU, we have a stake in you graduating from here,” Boschini said. “It is my goal that every student admitted here can graduate if they want to.”