College Retention, Graduation Rates Should be Better

Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on November 30, 2016 at 5:59 pm
College Retention, Graduation Rates Should be Better

The average college retention rate for first-time freshmen returning for their sophomore year is about 77 percent. At first glance, this seems promising until one examines the actual U.S. graduation rate for a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Six-year graduation rates of students working toward a bachelor’s degree average to about 55 percent.

This number reflects the time it takes many students to achieve a degree that is traditionally only supposed to take four years. Why do so few freshmen graduate, and why does it take them so long?

The causes are numerous:

Choosing a major and college retention

Many students enroll in college with no clear idea of what they want to accomplish. They choose a default major or one they believe will make their family or friends happy rather than one that reflects who they are and what they want to do with their lives. Such confusion can affect college retention.

Diane Gayeski is the dean of the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. She shared, “I think the biggest challenge is actually choosing the right college and the right major. If students can find the right fit in terms of the college location and experience, as well as the right fit in terms of major, they are much more likely to succeed.”

Most schools have many resources to help students make an informed decision about their college major. Students also can help themselves to publicly available information about majors and jobs.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the latest available information on job growth across sectors. The Occupational Outlook Handbook allows users to examine career fields in depth to learn about the qualifications, type of work, growth potential, and similar occupations.

Some of the fastest-growing occupations, along with their projected growth through 2024, include:

  • Wind turbine service technicians – 108%
  • Nurse practitioners – 35.2%
  • Statisticians – 33.8%
  • Cartographers – 29.3%
  • Genetic counselors – 28.8%
  • Interpreters and translators – 28.7%
  • Forensic science technicians – 26.6%
  • Solar photovoltaic installers – 24.3%

The U.S. Department of Education has created the College Scorecard to help students choose a college that will best serve their needs. The functionality of the website is consistently being upgraded. Students may search by:

  • Degree plan
  • Program
  • Location – by state, region, or zip code
  • Size – based on total student body
  • Name
  • Type of school – public, private nonprofit, private for-profit
  • Specialized mission
  • Religious affiliation

Depending on the parameters set the number of options may be overwhelming. Results can be filtered by:

  • Average annual cost
  • Graduation rate
  • Salary after attending

Individual universities can then be examined in depth. Information is available on:

  • Costs
  • Financial Aid & Debt
  • Graduation & Retention
  • Earnings After School
  • Student Body
  • SAT/ACT Scores
  • Academic Programs

This type of information can help student’s narrow their areas of interest and make informed decisions about what they want to major in, what the prospects in their field are, and what colleges can best facilitate their specific goals.

Personal responsibility matters for college retention

According to psychology professor and career coach Caitlin Faas, Ph.D, self-discipline and time management are two of the biggest challenges for students entering college for the first time. There are several techniques and tools students can use to help improve these necessary skills.

Time management is a difficult thing to teach because it has numerous components. The University of Georgia has some tips for improving one’s self-discipline and time management skills.

  • Track – Record how every hour is spent to identify where time is being wasted.
  • Prioritize – This can be accomplished with a to-do list on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
  • Tools – Planning tools include a personal planner that one will use daily.
  • Organization – Removing items, people, and events that drain time but offer no benefit helps maximize the time one has to focus on important tasks.
  • Schedule – Analyze how time has been spent from the tracking data to determine when productivity levels are highest. Then prioritize obligations and place them into a calendar. Everything should be scheduled including extracurricular activities, classes, homework and study time, family time, and free time.
  • Delegate – Ask for help when it is needed. Family, friends, staff, and school resources are available to help student’s reach their goals.
  • Be proactive; don’t procrastinate – When something feels overwhelming, people often avoid it. When this happens, it can be helpful to break up the task into smaller portions and address each one individually.

Leverage technology to help

One of the indisputable facts of modern life is an increased reliance on technology. In particular, smartphones and tablets have become far more integrated into daily life and can be leveraged for greater productivity with the use of different apps for waking up, meeting deadlines, and taking notes.

All of the time management suggestions can be implemented using technology.

  • Alarms – In addition to the alarm that is installed natively on one’s phone, there are many apps that provide additional motivation such as Uhp, Alarmy, Barcode Alarm Clock, and Walk Me Up.
  • Notes – Taking notes in class can be accomplished with apps and have the added benefit of being easily searchable for specific information. Some of the leaders in this category are Google Keep, Evernote, and One Note.
  • Calendar – Digital calendars afford more flexibility than traditional planners. It is possible to share them with friends and family, create detailed agendas, or notes on the expanded view of the day.
  • Tools – Educational tools can be exchanged for apps on a smart phone such as scientific calculators, maps, English dictionary, thesaurus, foreign language dictionaries, the periodic table, reference books, flash cards, and many more.
  • Social media – Private study groups can be set up on social media sites to share information.

Students must learn to advocate for themselves from the very beginning by choosing an educational path that is aligned with their interests. They then must learn to manage their time and resources to pursue their goals as efficiently as possible. That’s the best way to improve college retention and the graduation rate.

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional who loves to write. During the day, she wears her marketing hat in her marketing director role and at night she works as a freelance writer, ghost writing for clients and contributing to publications such as Huffington Post and Social Media Today.

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