Student retention rates fall short of national average, increase over university’s lifespan

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Dixie State University’s retention rate for first-time freshmen has been improving slowly but surely due to the university’s combined efforts across campus. 

According to higheredinfo.org, the national average for retention rates in the U.S. is 79.8 percent. DSU falls well beneath this average at 51.3 percent. DSU has made improvements since its first years as a university when only 48.9 of first-time freshmen returned on average.

Andrea Brown, director of institutional research, said there are three major reasons students said they leave DSU: financial, family and job reasons. However, Brown said students typically avoid saying what may be the real reason they don’t return.

“When our department digs deeper into why students withdraw, we often find that academic performance is a [major] issue with these particular students,” Brown said. “There’s been a huge concerted effort across campus to help improve our retention rate.”

According to DSU’s website, FYE courses are designed to provide freshmen with knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in college. These classes provide expertise on where to find different campus resources, how to properly manage time, and many other skills needed to balance school and life. The Student Success Center also offers a course similar to FYE, which helps students gain life skills. 

“Because DSU is open enrollment, anyone can get in, and this means we get a lot of students who come to college with academic issues,” said Jeffery Hoyt, assistant vice president for student success and co-curricular assessment. “We have to change how we teach developmental courses or our retention rate won’t change.”

Hoyt said students who are at a high risk of failing academically often keep “bad high school habits.”

Darlene Dilley, assistant vice president for enrollment management, said DSU President Biff Williams has called together a retention task force, which is designed to help students succeed during their first year and continue their schooling. This task force was brought together at the end of September.

“One of the task force’s initiatives is looking at classes students don’t do well in,” Dilley said. “It was a short-term task force that met through early November, and once we identified the challenges and roadblocks, we [started] working in smaller teams to create plans of action.”

Dilley said DSU is also starting to reach out to students before they’re in school to build a connection between them and DSU. 

“DSU, for the last two years running, has had the biggest freshman class and the greatest enrollment increase,” Dilley said. “DSU is continuing to expand its offerings and students like to see value, affordability and strong academic programs in these offerings.”

DSU’s retention’s link to academic performance can be improved by monitoring the way classes are taught and getting students the help they need, Hoyt said.

“We just can’t have as high of failure rates DSU currently has in certain classes, like math 1000,” Hoyt said. “[DSU] is in the process of revamping classes…and the task force is helping with student success.”