Sherene Ahrar, a medical engineering student at the University of Minnesota, just started her third year at the University-a feat that doesn’t seem all that unusual in a sea of more than 40,000 undergraduates on campus.
But the numbers of students who are staying on board for their second, third and final years at the University of Minnesota are comparatively low.
According to a U.S. News and World Report survey, first-year University students are among the least likely in the Big Ten to return for a second year.
While more first-year University students are staying enrolled now than in the past, the University’s 2007 retention rate of 89 percent—up from 86 percent in 2004—is no match for nearly all other Big Ten schools.
The University’s average annual retention rate was 87.2 percent for 2005 to 2008 , according to the survey. Out of the eleven Big Ten universities, the University ranked ninth, with rates higher than only Purdue University and the University of Iowa.
Northwestern University had the highest retention rate, with nearly 97 percent of its first year students returning.
Issues with low retention rates often resurface in low graduation rates, and the University is no exception to this trend.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 66 percent of University undergraduate students graduate within six years. This places the University last among its peer institutions, its closest competitor being Ohio State University with a six-year rate of 73 percent.
The University’s peer institutions are schools recognized as being similar to the University in terms of economies, demographics and structures and include the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania State University, among others.
A report conducted by ACT , a well-known college testing company, cited three specific categories of institutional characteristics as having the greatest impact on student retention: academic advising, first-year programs and learning support.
The report, “What Works in Student Retention,” also recognized certain individual student characteristics as having strong ties to retention rates. Topping the list were financial concerns, lack of motivation, insufficient preparation for college-level coursework and poor study skills.
University first-year kinesiology student Kevin Campbell said the only reason he would consider not coming back next year would be finance-related. Campbell is from Chicago and said that among other reasons, he chose the University because it was the best deal among the Big Ten schools that interested him.
The University has worked to increase student retention rates by creating programs aimed at making students feel more connected to the campus environment.
Welcome Week debuted in 2008 as an intensive orientation program intended to provide social opportunities for new students and to get them acclimated to campus.
The University also offers a more intensive orientation program called Bridge to Academic Excellence , held over the summer for students who seek additional knowledge on how University systems operate.
Many individual colleges throughout the University also have their own first-year initiative programs with a more major-specific focus.
Jonathan Frenz , a first-year computer engineering student, found Welcome Week to be very useful in making the transition from high school to college. He said he found the presentations by various campus organizations to be helpful in highlighting ways for students to get involved, and has already joined one student group.
Director of Orientation and First-Year Programs Beth Lingren Clark said the sooner students get involved, the more connected they will feel to campus. She said students who leave the University feeling like it’s too big of a place often haven’t made those connections.
“Research shows that those who are more involved are more likely to succeed,” said Lingren Clark.
Frenz, who graduated from a small high school, said he has had no trouble adjusting to the big campus atmosphere of the University.
“I don’t mind it, but I can see where some would,” Frenz said.
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