Preliminary data shows 3.4 percent increase in freshman retention rate at Clarion University

Lauren Williams's picture

Based on preliminary data, Clarion University is reporting a 73.6 percent retention rate for full-time, first-time-in-college, bachelor degree-seeking students who started at Clarion in fall 2012. This is a 3.4 percent increase over the 70.2 percent retention rate for the previous year’s freshman class.

“Even an improvement of 1 percent is considered a good improvement in one year,” said Dr. Susan Turell, associate provost at Clarion University, who noted the preliminary data only includes non-suspended students who are enrolled for fall 2013. According to the ACT Institutional Data File (2012), the BA/BS Public average is 65.2 percent; the BA/BS Private average is 67.3 percent.

Turell credits the increase to a series of retention programs implemented at Clarion University since 2011.

“As we began our work, we sought innovative and proven initiatives that would support student acclimation and success at Clarion University,” Turell said.

Over the past two years, Clarion has implemented MAP-Works and Access to Success programs, formed the Center for Academic Achievement at Clarion, and created a student advocate position.

MAP-Works, which was introduced in fall 2012, allows the university to analyze institutional data with self-reported data from students.

“The sophisticated MAP-Works algorithm takes into account attendance records, living environments and social engagement to identify students who are having difficulty adjusting to college life,” said Erin Schuetz, director of Clarion’s Student Orientation Acclimation and Retention, who coordinated the implementation of MAP-Works at Clarion.

As part of the initiative, university personnel – including advisors and community assistants – intervene when a student could benefit from assistance, help align a student’s expectations with realistic outcomes, provide information to cultivate student involvement and facilitate the social and emotional transition in college.

Access to Success program, which was initiated by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, uses an evidence-based, data-informed approach to identify barriers to student retention. Five PASSHE schools currently participate, and Clarion was among the first cohort.

“We found that students who live on campus acclimate better,” said Dr. Ron Nowaczyk, provost at Clarion University.  “As a result, we changed our housing policy to support our student success initiatives.”  Starting in fall 2013, all freshmen and sophomores will be required to live in university-affiliated housing.

“As part of our retention initiatives, we also ask faculty members to provide, within the first two weeks of classes, names of new Clarion students – freshmen and transfers – who are not attending class or who are performing below expectations by arriving late to class, being inattentive, sleeping or being disruptive,” Turell said.

The Center for Academic Achievement was created in 2011 by bringing existing programs and units under one umbrella. This allowed for greater synergy of efforts among the various services – from advising and tutoring to special programs for students with disabilities and students who are the first in their generation to attend college. The center is also planning new programming for returning adult students, including veterans.

In addition, in fall 2012 the Division of Academic Affairs created the position of student advocate. Dr. Brenda Sanders Dédé, associate vice president of academic affairs, assumed the role.

Dédé helps students reach informal resolution to issues and concerns related to academic advancement, interpersonal conflicts, harassment and policy clarification, and helps students develop independent and healthy decision making about personal and educational goals.

“We look to continue to improve the retention rate even more next year through continuing what has worked, and adding new programs,” Turell said. “Everyone at Clarion recognizes the importance of helping students be successful, and many have gone the extra step to offer assistance.”

Clarion University is the high-achieving, nationally recognized, comprehensive university that delivers a personal and challenging academic experience.