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University System Reports Record-Setting Student Retention

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Admissions Policy, Other Initiatives Beginning to Show Promise

Atlanta — November 15, 2000

One of the most-promising pieces of data, thus far, to come out of the University System of Georgia’s comprehensive benchmarking initiative is the identification of record-setting retention rates for first-time, full-time freshmen who entered the System in the Fall of 1998. The data was released at today’s Board of Regents meeting.

The Fall 1998 to Fall 1999 retention rate for first-time, full-time freshmen was 77.7 percent, the highest ever recorded in the University System. University System officials attribute the increased retention rate to the success of their heightened admissions requirements, and a variety of inter-related educational reforms – all of which are increasing student performance.

“Georgia’s HOPE scholarship program, the University System’s 2001 admissions policy, and our increased emphasis on student retention and student satisfaction have delivered a significant payoff,” said Chancellor Stephen R. Portch. “I predict we will see a corresponding increase in future University System graduation rates, moving us closer to our goal of increasing the educational attainment levels of our state.”

The regents heard the positive news at their last monthly meeting for 2000, during another installment of the board’s on-going series of benchmarking presentations. Today’s presentation was delivered by Dr. Daniel S. Papp, the Board of Regents’ senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, who addressed the retention and graduation data, and William R. Bowes, interim vice chancellor for fiscal affairs, who outlined the System’s administrative and instructional costs. The presentations are allowing the regents to dissect the volumes of data collected about the System earlier this year in a systematic and focused manner, and to utilize the rigorous self-assessment in shaping the University System’s long-term strategic planning.

According to System officials, measuring retention is critical because the first year of college or university attendance is the most important. Educational research reflects that more students leave college in their first year of study than they do in subsequent years.

The reasons students drop out range from individual issues – such as financial or personal difficulties – to academic reasons. In addition, some student attrition can be traced to institutional causes, such as lack of necessary support services, or low overall student satisfaction with the campus climate.

While most of the USG’s institutions performed within the normative range of their respective peer groups with regard to their retention rates, the University of Georgia faired particularly well among its targeted research peers, placing at the high end of the normative range. Systems officials attributed UGA’s impressive performance to high student satisfaction levels and the increased SAT scores of their incoming students.

“There’s no substitute for preparation,” Portch said, commenting on UGA’s success.

In the regional and state university category, five USG institutions fell outside of the normative range when compared to their targeted peers. Albany State University, with a retention rate of 82.8 percent, surpassed the rate of the benchmarked peer group, which ranged from 62.3 to 82.1 percent. The slight differential was partially attributed to student satisfaction with the institution’s recently reconstructed facilities (following the 1994 flood that seriously impacted the campus). Three of the four institutions that fell slightly below the normative range (Augusta State, Clayton State and Columbus State) all are commuter campuses. Such institutions tend to draw high numbers of students who often combine college attendance with work and family demands, and may “stop out” temporarily to balance professional and personal priorities. Southern Polytechnic, the fourth campus outside of the normative range, is a special mission institution, and accordingly transfers more students to other System colleges and universities than that those institutions with a broader array of academic offerings.

Graduation rates in the University System reflect that the new admissions policies have not been in place long enough to effectively impact “output” in the same manner that it has retention. The System’s six-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students (the data most used in national studies) who enrolled in 1993 in baccalaureate universities is 39.9 percent for those graduating at the same institution they started at in the System, leaving room for significant improvement. However, 46.4 percent graduated from one of the USG’s colleges or universities during the same period. Ten USG regional and state universities fell below the normative range of 28 to 62 percent. The four-year graduation rates (now less considered the norm nationally) also followed similar patterns.

The University System’s 2001 Admissions Policy Directive received final approval by the Board of Regents in 1996, and began being implemented in Fall 1997. It’s expected that the more rigorous academic requirements for incoming students should be reflected in increased USG graduation rates over the next five years. “From the retention data, it appears our initiatives are working,” Portch stated. “But the final proof will be if, as we project, our graduation rates improve.”

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