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Western sees significant increase in retention

Missouri Western’s Fall census numbers show that the student body is not only growing, but is also returning for each semester in high numbers.

The census data collected on Monday, Sept. 22 revealed a 3.5 percent increase in returning first-time, full-time students. The freshman-to-sophomore retention rate rose to 64 percent. Tyson Schank, director of admissions, said that this is a huge improvement.

“Typically, getting a 1 or 2 percent increase in retention is huge, something to really be celebrated,” Schank said. “A 3.5 percent increase is something were very excited about.”

Aside from helping the campus to grow, the retention could also help Western financially. Western will eventually receive “performance funding” for its improvement.  This funding is given by the state and is based on several different aspects.

There are five performance-indicating categories that the state focuses on when considering funding. These categories include graduation rates, quality of learning, financial responsibility, applied learning and retention rates.

Each of these awards a varying dollar amount if Western improves on the category. Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jeanne Daffron explains that this money isn’t immediately awarded to the university.

“It’s a three-year rolling average and it varies by measure,” Daffron said.

Each of the measures has its own time delay, with graduation being the longest.

Cindy Heider, associate provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that Western allows each cohort class six years to graduate, which means that the graduation data for each class is delayed by six years.

“We won’t know what our graduation rate for this cohort is until 2020 or beyond,” Heider said.

Once collected, the data is reported to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.

The state will be adding a sixth performance-funding category, which will deal with post-graduation placement.

The success in retention numbers has been credited in part to Western’s relatively new College Completion Team.  The team, founded last April, consists of five sub-groups made up of faculty and students who focus on different aspects of students’ college careers, with the goal of retaining students.

The first group focuses on students’ first-year experience, starting from registration.  This group looks at the registration process-including Griffon Edge and tries to find ways to keep students successful up until the end of their first year.

The second group focuses on getting second-year students on to graduation.  Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Judy Grimes c0-chairs in this “second year to graduation” sub-group.

“We know, from the research, the more students are involved, the more likely they are to be retained, because they feel a sense of community,” Grimes said.  Currently Western has students involved in 80 to 100 clubs and organizations.

“If our students are successful, we’re going to have higher retention rates,” Grimes said.

The third sub-group of the College Completion Team focuses on student services and financial security.  This group is implementing new customer service standards and focuses on getting students financial aid opportunities.

The fourth sub-group looks into academic advisement for students throughout their college experience.

The final sub-group focuses on academic recovery and aims to help students who have been put on academic probation.

An additional group called the “milestone and cohort” group looks into the data collected by all groups.  Director of Admissions Tyson Schank takes part in this group.

“We will be getting together to look at the data and saying ‘what’s this telling us?'” Schank said.

Daffron believes there is another, more important factor to Western’s high retention rates.

“Part of it is students’ persistence and hard work,” Daffron said.

According to Daffron, the Center for Academic Support and other free tutoring services have been especially busy this semester, due to students being more proactive.

“It’s often the very good students who take advantage of that, but we would like to see everyone take advantage of it,” Daffron said.

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