Retention and graduation rates highest in recent years

The most recent statistics show that more students are coming to Eastern, staying at Eastern and graduating from Eastern than ever before. The administration’s focus on retention is paying off, and the result is the current record-high student population.

Although the percentages of incoming students graduating in four years and of first-years staying for their sophomore year are not much higher than they have been in some recent years, the graduation rate particularly is significantly higher than it was in 1994, the first year for which data were provided. And the most recent data in both categories are the highest on record. (See chart for the complete data from 1994 to the present.)

The retention rate refers to the percentage of first-year students who return to the same college for their sophomore year, and the graduation rate refers to the percentage of students who attend a college or university and end up graduating from there in a given period of time (though the term “retention rate” can sometimes refer to either one).

While retention has something to do with Eastern’s recent crowding, the most important factor is that Eastern now admits over double the number of first-years that it did ten years ago (422 in 2004 compared to 188 in 1994).

Despite contributing to a more crowded campus, a higher retention rate is exactly what Eastern wants.

“Retention is something we’re always working on,” said Bettie Ann Brigham, vice-president of student development. “There are always more people to be retained.

“From my standpoint,” she added, “every single faculty member or student working here should be thinking about retention.”

While it may be impossible to ever fully know why the retention and graduation rates have improved, student development attributes some of the increase to their attempts to find out what aspects of Eastern students are satisfied and dissatisfied with and then their actions on this information.

The Student Satisfaction Inventory is one method used to discover students’ concerns. This yearly survey obtains information about what students like and dislike about Eastern and what areas they care most about. When students are highly dissatisfied by issues like security and health services, as they were recently, student development acts to improve those areas.

In these cases, student development will alert the department in charge of that particular concern, and then make recommendations as to how the department should address the problem.

Wendy Steinberg, the psychology professor who assesses the information gained from the SSI, brings a different perspective.

Steinberg readily agrees that security and parking are the areas of greatest dissatisfaction among students, but she said, “I doubt seriously that these are a case for retention. It would be my guess that these account for very few people leaving.”

Steinberg also notes, however, that students are generally satisfied with the academic aspect of Eastern.

The responsibility for academic satisfaction lies partly with the office of provost David Fraser.

“My retention issue is faculty,” Fraser said. “I would like to get and keep more faculty. That would do more for student retention than anything else I have influence over.”

Another way Eastern has tried to raise its retention rate through academics is by improving the first-year program.

“The most well-known studies show that one key element to retention is that [students feel like] there is one person on campus who cares for them and their success in college,” said Julie Elliott, the director of the first-year program.

Elliott has worked for the first-year program for two years, finding ways to make the overall experience better for first-years. She works especially to improve the INST150 course, trying to make it worthwhile to students. Elliott also works to recruit professors for INST150 who would make good first-year advisors.

The SSI from the fall of 2003 did show a markedly increased satisfaction in INST150 from previous years.

But despite all the attention focused on keeping students here, Brigham does recognize that some students leave for the better. There are a number of good financial, emotional and academic reasons that cause students to leave.

“We want to help students find their calling,” she said. “There are situations where students find their calling in a major we don’t have, like nursing. It’s not appropriate to retain every single student.”

The Numbers

Source: Institutional Research

Four-Year Graduation Rate

Year Percentage1994 39.4%1995 45.1%1996 56.3%1997 56.1%1998 53.3%1999 50.1%2000 57.0%

Sophomore Retention Rate

Year Percentage1994 76.6%1995 77.4%1996 74.7%1997 79.0%1998 71.9%1999 71.8%2000 76.0%2001 76.5%2002 77.8%2003 79.5%

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