Kent State’s main campus hit record retention rates

Hanna Moore

Kent State main campus reached record freshman-to-sophomore retention in Fall 2014 at 81.7 percent, which is up four percent from last year’s rate of 77.6 percent.

“When we’re talking about retention, we’re talking about freshmen coming back as sophomores, and if they don’t come back as sophomores, they’re probably not going to graduate, so they incur a year’s worth of costs and debts,” said Wayne Schneider, director of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness. “That’s why retention, from a student’s standpoint, is so important.”

Many students who do not return after freshman year do not graduate from any university.

“The worst thing in the world is students stopping when they haven’t finished and then having debt or having to finish paying off loans and they didn’t end up getting their degree,” said Associate Provost Melody Tankersley.

Past retention rates

Kent State’s retention also had a large increase in 2007, when it went from 72 percent to 77.5 percent, according to data from RPIE.

“We’ve looked at the data, and back in 2007 to 2008, we also saw a big jump,” Schneider said. “We used to be running at a 72 percent retention rate, so in the last several years, we have jumped from a 72 to 77, and now we have jumped from 77 to 81.”  

Increased academic profile

The increased academic profile of students has also played a role. The freshman class has an average high school cumulative GPA of 3.34 and an average ACT score of 23.

“My goal for increasing student success is to create an environment in which, if a student stubs her or his toe academically, their first reaction or response is not to leave the university, their first response is to get help and to stay and graduate,” said Todd Diacon, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

Required advising

Kent State decided to require students to meet with an academic adviser before they could schedule classes in Fall 2012.

“Clearly, our decision to make academic advising mandatory for all students has made a difference because now you can’t register for classes until you’ve been advised, and that advising process is where you learn if you are taking the right courses or taking the wrong courses,” Diacon said.

The new pathfinder software used by advisers provides easy access to information about students they meet with and can identify groups of students who need additional advising, Schneider said.

Academic advisers are now using 10 years of data about students when helping students during advising meetings.

“When you as a student are struggling and you go in to see an academic adviser, we have so much data on students from 10 years that we can find how students in your exact situation — the ones that have succeeded — recovered and graduated,” Diacon said. “What have they done differently from the ones that didn’t succeed? So we have really harnessed the power of big data.”

15 credit hours

Kent State launched the Formula to Finish initiative in summer 2014, which encourages students to take 15 credit hours each semester and 30 credit hours each year to graduate with 120 credit hours in four years.      

In Fall 2013, students taking 15 or more credit hours had an average GPA of 3.06, compared to students taking 12 to 14 credit hours, who had an average GPA of 2.91, according to data from RPIE.

Full-time students who take 15 or more credit hours have a higher retention rate than students taking 13 credit hours, even though they are both considered full-time students, Schneider said.

“The 15/30 campaign is data driven, also,” Schneider said. “It is something people are seeing nationally, but it has shown up in our data as well. Students taking 15 or more hours, no matter Kent campus, regional campus, living on campus, living off campus, major, gender, all the demographics we covered, it made a difference in retention rates.“

Regional campus retention

Even though enrollment at regional campuses was down this year, retention increased slightly, said Randall Lennox, institutional research officer for RPIE.

“There’s some unique challenges with the regional campus students,” Schneider said. “A lot of them are what you would consider traditional students. They are fresh out of high school and they’re going full time, but there’s also a large number of non-traditional students — older, and they’re working and going to school part time.”

Another challenge with regional campuses is that many students are place bound, and if they drop out of Kent State, they do not attend another university, Schneider said.

“Regional students are not residential students — they are not living on campus,” Lennox said. “That’s one connection they don’t have. We know when we look at the regional students demographically; they tend to be generally from the region. The hope is always to continue increasing retention of the regionals as well.”

Future retention rates

Lennox said he believes Kent State’s retention will eventually reach the level of other schools in the state, such as The Ohio State University.

“Our national and international reputation is getting better and better, but we’re just not quite there yet,” Lennox said. “Some people will accuse me of being an optimist, but I will always say we can get to that level because we have all the faculty, administrators and students. We have programs in place. We’re not going to get there next year, but if everything continues in the right direction, I would say there’s no reason we can’t be there.”

Diacon said that he and President Beverly Warren want freshman-to-sophomore retention to reach 85 percent and six-year graduation to reach 65 percent.

“President Warren and I have already said that if we ever reach 85 percent freshman-to-sophomore retention and 65 percent six-year graduation rate, she and I are going to put a stage up here on Risman Plaza, and we are going to dance,” Diacon said. 

Contact Hanna Moore at [email protected].

Correction: Fall 2013 was changed to Fall 2014 on Dec. 2.