UT Aspires to raise retention rates

by Mallory Culhane

As of 2018, UT had a retention rate of 77 percent, which is considerably higher than the national average retention rate of colleges and universities of 61 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

UT’s retention rate is below other colleges and universities in the Tampa Bay area. Eckerd College has a retention rate of 81 percent and the University of South Florida has a rate of 89 percent, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The retention rate has very specific criteria. A school’s retention rate only includes students who remain at the same institution from their first year to their second year.

“Our retention rate makes us sound good, but we’re not happy with it,” said David Stern, the provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “We know that all of our students thought long and hard about where they’re going to college. It was a decision to come here. We want that decision to turn out to have been the right decision for all our students.”

UT sends surveys to first-year students to determine root causes and inform the administration on ways to improve what is driving students to transfer.

One of the more prevalent reasons why students leave UT is because of homesickness, which is beyond the control of the school, according to Stern.

“I loved UT honestly,” said Rachel Mort, who transferred from UT to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh this Spring. “But since I am from Wisconsin it was just so far from home. I didn’t think the distance would be as hard as it was.”

Improving retention is a slow, complex process, according to Stern. The retention rate cannot be traced back to a single department or aspect of UT. Students that choose to leave or stay make those decisions based on an infinite number of possibilities.

“When I arrived on this campus 23 years ago, the campus ended at Smiley Hall. This entire campus is a commitment to making the college experience better for our students,” said Edesa Scarborough, director of First-Year Experience. “What I can truly say is that we work hard on listening to our students.”

The retention rate has greatly improved. Twenty years ago, UT’s retention rate was around the national average of 61 percent. Each change UT makes impacts the retention rate, both in positive and negative ways.

Since 2007, UT has added 79 new academic programs, five new athletic teams and over 100 new scholarships have all contributed to the improvement in retention. This coming fall, a first-year student convocation for each college will take place to welcome students to the faculty of their major, according to Stern.

However, many students still consider transferring from UT.               

“I lived in Smiley and after the first semester half of the building was gone,” said Shannon Stine, a junior human performance and dance major.

Stine at one point thought of transferring as well. “All my professors wanted me to quit everything I was involved in to make my schedule easier to work with. I wasn’t happy.”

Students’ unmet expectations of UT and academic advising were contributing factors for first-year students to transfer.

“I wanted to double major but UT only had one of the majors,” said Mort. “I went in thinking they had both, partially because of the admissions people I talked to and partially my fault,” said Mort.

According to the Provost, UT is bringing in a new director of Academic Success this summer to improve first-year advising and mentoring in the academic success center, according to Stern.

Even with these changes, to improve retention overall, it requires the efforts of the entire UT community in addition to changes.

“Retention is a byproduct of all of us doing our best, every day in every way; faculty, administrators, staff and students,” said Scarborough. “Everyone together can make a difference.”

Mallory Culhane can be reached at mallory.culhane@spartans.ut.edu

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