Freshman experience linked to long-term success
Nationwide university freshman retention rates show that as many as one in three first-year students don’t make it back for their sophomore year.
While there are many factors to consider when determining retention among the student freshman body, the rates provide a direct link to the successful and not-so-successful student longevity programs across the spectrum.
When contrasting the percentages of returning first-year students, UH fell low on the list of highly ranked Texas universities with a retention rate of 81 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report. Meanwhile, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin tied at 92 percent, and Rice University reached 96 percent.
The first factor observed when considering differences among the rankings is first-year experience intervention.
“Despite being rather withdrawn and coming in as a freshman in the fall of 2011, the old UC still offered an orientation fair welcoming new students, where I was approached by other students and then later welcomed by first-year professors. It seemed like a reassuring enough welcoming,” said psychology junior Corey Helfand.
Orientation, which incoming students must attend or face a hold on registration, seems to serve more than just an informative purpose. According to Tara Boyle, director of prospective and new student programs, 96.7 percent of freshmen who attend orientation continue on to enroll in courses and remained enrolled in courses through the 20th class day.
“Orientation promotes getting involved, which truly changed my entire motives after my first year on campus. It helped me feel more like I belonged to something,” said orientation leader and architecture junior Candela Beistegui.
Along with orientation comes one of the several first-year prospective student programs optional for newly admitted students — Destination UH, through which students are able to explore careers and make a connection with their chosen department.
“Every student that comes through the program is accounted for, whether it is for a missed orientation or through the enrollment process,” Boyle said.
However successful these introductory programs and services seem to be, UH continues to see a significant percentage of freshman dropouts. U.S. News & World Report claimed that successful integration of new students into college has direct links to academic success.
UH was recently accepted by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education to take on a project to push for a first-year experience at UH that establishes a stronger foundation for incoming students.
“We need to think about ‘what are the variables that impact student success,’ and if we don’t ever change the variables, we are never really going to change the outcome,” said Daniel Maxwell, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and co-director of the Foundations of Excellence.
With this issue brought to the surface, the Foundations of Excellence can take data from an extensive field of participants and pull evidence that leads to determining whether the problem is systematic — an issue within the process of recruitment or acceptance — or whether the available programs and services are achieving their intended purposes.
Throughout the 2013-2014 academic year, the Foundations of Excellence has taken on the mission to uncover the truths of freshman retention rates and undergraduate educational achievement at UH and other college campuses nationwide.
Maxwell said he believes that with this data, the University is one step closer to digging up real solutions, which now lie hidden behind “anecdotal stories of freshman dropouts.”
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘what are the things that we can control,’ and if we tweaked them, changed them, incorporated them into a different delivery, we can then support students and their success at a higher rate,” he said.