From year to year, between 20 and 25 percent of the entering freshman class fail to return as sophomores. Over the last four years, the retention rate averaged at 77 percent. However, 79.3 percent of last year’s freshman class returned this fall.
The university is making plans to centralize its advising system that will take advisers out of various departments and colleges and put them in a single location. Advisers will be housed under enrollment and marketing beginning in August.
University officials say it will allow advisors to take advantage of new software called Degree Works to track students’ progress and help them satisfy all of their degree requirements. One of the prime justifications for the change has been the university’s low retention rates. Over the past several years, only between 75 and 80 percent of freshman students return for their sophomore year. While that number rose slightly last year, it is still well below the university’s goal and other universities ACU compares itself to. That retention rate is a key indicator of student satisfaction and the university is right to put such a heavy emphasis on it.
In an earlier Optimist story on the move to central advising, Dr. Susan Lewis said the Senior Leadership Team is introducing the system in an effort to improve retention.
“Many of our students are being served well right now, but the experience they have is inconsistent across campus,” Lewis said. “We have done a lot of things to improve retention, but this is the next thing that we are trying. We’re bringing in good students, but they just aren’t retaining at the rate they should be.”
And here’s why that matters: the retention rate translates into real dollars to the university’s bottom line. Every percentage point increase in student retention means more people are paying tuition each year.
For example, tuition is $41,520 per year, including room and board and meal plan fees. But of course, no one pays full price. That reduction is called the discount rate, and ACU’s discount rate has been on the rise. According to a study published by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, freshman students at private, four-year universities, receive an average discount rate of 48 percent. Based on these assumptions, the average ACU freshman pays $21,590 in tuition. The more of these students the university retains, the more dollars ACU brings in.
An increase in 3 percentage points of freshman retention would net the university roughly $625,000.
And yes, all these numbers and talk of retention bring us back to central advising. The Senior Leadership Team is implementing the central advising system beginning in the fall, hoping to raise the retention rate. Even these rough numbers show us better retention will indeed be better for the university overall. However, it still doesn’t take away the concerns of such hasty implementation and the question still remains as to how advising removed from specific departments will keep wavering students around.