There was a time in higher education when an institution’s attrition rate was a point of pride and a supreme marker of academic rigor. More recently, it sometimes seems as if retention and graduation rates have actually surpassed educational growth in ranking institutional quality. In reality, these two markers are clearly intertwined. Although educational growth is paramount, such growth seems a bit empty if an institution is also hemorrhaging students somewhere between matriculation and graduation.
So if a college could actually demonstrate substantial educational growth while simultaneously increasing retention rates, the faculty and staff at that institution would have a real reason to take great pride in their collective accomplishments.
It is becoming clear that Augustana College is one such institution. We now have both direct and indirect evidence of educational growth. Using the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) to measure the growth of critical thinking skills between 2005 and 2009, our students improved by 28 percentile points – double the average of students participating in the Academically Adrift study. In addition, during the last 10 years our NSSE Academic Challenge Benchmark scores have improved significantly among first year students – an accomplishment that was recently highlighted by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment.
By itself, this is well worth a hearty pat on the back. However, it looks even better in the context of our increases in retaining students to the second year. For a long time, Augustana’s first-to-second year retention rate hovered around 85%. Three years ago, we retained the freshman class of 2008 at 82%, sparking some concern as the size of our incoming 2009 class also dropped. After an increased focus on supporting struggling first year student, our retention rate among the 2009 class jumped to about 87%. But we weren’t sure if that was an anomaly or a true reflection of our efforts.
Now that we have locked in our 10th day enrollment data this fall, we are able to look at our first-to-second year retention rate for the incoming class of 2010. Some of us had wondered aloud whether our retention rate with this class would take a hit, presupposing that it’s a lot easier to retain students from a class of 616 (the freshman class of 2009) than students from a class of 753 (the 2010 freshmen class).
However, our retention rate for the 2010 freshmen class remained steady at 87.5%. Thus, despite an increase in class size of 137 students, we maintained Augustana’s highest retention rate on record. Your efforts to help students succeed in the first year are bearing fruit. We have a lot reasons to be very proud of our community.
Make it a good day,