Mason’s changing identity impacts retention rates

Administration looks to reduce the number of students who leave after sophomore year

The university’s identity has changed over the past few years; from local alternative and commuter school to having one of the biggest on-campus student presence in Virginia, Mason is creating a new identity that is evolving everyday.

With Mason’s identity, a trend had been for students to attend Mason for two years and then transfer to another university.

“We do a pretty good job at keeping students their first and second year. We drop a little bit second to third year, so the sophomore level,” said Jeannie Brown Leonard, dean of student academic affairs, advising and retention.

The Institutional Research and Reporting has a report on Persistence and Graduation Rates for First- Time, Full-Time Baccalaureate Degree-Seeking Cohorts which shows the retention rate for each cohort, meaning the percentage of an enrollment group (one- year, two-year, etc.) that enrolls for the next year.

The report shows that in 2002, the percent of the two-year cohort, consisting of mostly sophomores, was 72.8 and dropped to 69.2 in the three-year cohort (mostly juniors).

In the latest report in 2009, the two-year rate was 79.4 and the three-year rate was 75.2. A change that may seem like the trend is changing because of the larger percentage of retention overall, the percent of those who do not enroll in the next year is about 4.2%. This number, however, is from five years ago. Leonard notes that the number may be misleading.

“It’s important to look at it in these broad trends,” Leonard said. “It depends on how big the number is that you are tracking, but one or two students can sometimes make a huge difference. And that’s sort of crazy. If we see a fractional percentage point change in either direction it’s not particularly meaningful.”

Despite the progress, the university has taken steps to insure that the retention rates are and remain high for each cohort, as have many other universities. Leonard also notes that it is unreasonable to expect a 100 percent retention rate.

“We would love to see it continue to grow,” Leonard said. “We would love the story to be that students learn about Mason in a way that’s consistent with what their experience is so that there is an alignment and that they thrive when they get here.”

Some students who decide to transfer out of Mason to another four-year university, whether it be University of Virginia, James Madison University or another four-year institution, do finish and get their degrees. Out-of-state students may return to their flagship universities or to community college in their home state. It is not required for students to tell the university what school they will be transferring to, so the information on where the students decide to go is minimal.

When students leave, there is a process by which students can come back to the university without re- applying. This process, according to Leonard, brought back three students who left at the beginning of the fall 2012 semester.

“We were able to say, whatever went on we are hoping is fixed and you’re going to come join us,” Leonard said “And they didn’t have to reapply which they would of had to ordinarily. So we’ve facilitated that process.”

No matter which institution the student transfers to, the reasons that they leave is diverse.

“It’s a mixture,” said Angela Deltev, associate director of Institutional Research and Reporting. “We do know that some do finish their bachelors. It varies, it could have been the program. Mason has a lot of programs and a lot of really innovative choices for students to follow.”

“But we don’t have speech pathology, for example,” Leonard said. “So if you wanted to be a speech pathologist that might motivate your change.”

Leonard notes that the most difficult group to retain is out-of-state students. Brown said it is essential for students to feel like they fit in and have a place at the university. Going to a school in another states is a big commitment because of financial reasons, so loving Mason and finding the right academic program is key.

The university has taken steps to help acclimate out -of-state students to the university, even during orientation, to help them feel like they belong and thus boosting their likelihood of graduating at Mason.

MAP- Works, the Making Achievement Possible Works survey, is a survey sent to first and second year students (mostly freshman and sophomores) in which behavior, expectation, development and other retention factors are measured to investigate student satisfaction.

Other programs for students to succeed include intervention for students who may be at risk academically, making sure that off-campus students have found a niche within the university using programs such as the off-campus High-5’s, residence halls, using University 100, the introductory classes for first semester freshman and making sure that students are visiting their academic counselors.

“I would argue one of the best benefits of MAP- Works has been the university wide commitment and awareness to student success,” Leonard said.

– Originally published: http://broadsideonline.com/2013/02/25/masons-changing-identity-impacts-retention-rates-6028/#sthash.ydtiV5Kz.dpuf

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