FSU retention rate steady at 74 percent

(Graphic by Brittany Cormier)

FSU’s overall retention rate from fall 2014 to fall 2015 is 74 percent, and the six-year graduation rate is 51 percent, according to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad.

Framingham State’s “5-Year Strategic Plan for 2012-2017” includes a target first-year retention rate of 78 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 56 percent, according to Vaden-Goad.

“We hover around that number in terms of retention,” said Vaden-Goad, adding the overall retention rate from fall 2013 to fall 2014 was 75 percent.

She said it “is not bad, but in today’s world, we would like our students who come here by and large to be successful and finish here.”

Director of First-Year Programs Ben Trapanick said a college’s retention rate is the percent of first-time, full-time students who stay at the college from their first semester of their first year to the first semester of their second year. He added the retention rate does not include transfer students, which is a national practice.

Vaden-Goad said the students who are considered in the retention rate are those who qualify for the cohort. She said the students who count for the cohort are first-time, full-time students who have no prior postsecondary experience except for any students who were previously enrolled in academic or occupational programs, attended college for the first time in the summer term before the fall term or entered with college credits earned before graduating high school.

According to Vaden-Goad, the total number of students counted in the fall 2014 cohort was 806, and of whom 541 are female and 265 are male. Of this cohort total, 577 are non-minority students with a retention rate of 73 percent, and 218 are minority students with a retention rate of 75.7 percent.
According the “Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence for 2015-2020,” one of the main goals for the University is to “increase retention and the graduation rates for underrepresented students, with a particular focus on closing the college attainment and degree completion gaps at Framingham State University.”

The baseline goal for the retention gap regarding underrepresented students is 9.2 percent, and the six-year graduation rate gap is 15.3 percent, according to Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sean Huddleston, who said the target goal is to “eliminate, if at all possible,” the six-year graduation gap by 2020.

He said the retention rate among students of color is higher than the rates for non-students of color. However, the six-year graduation rate for African-American students is at 41 percent and 35 percent for Latino students, compared to the overall rate of 51 percent.

He said, “If retention – coming back the second year – is higher, but graduation is lower … then we have to look at where those issues are occurring.” Typical research suggests this gap may be related to financial concerns, academic preparedness in high schools or social experiences where a “sense of isolation” among students of color may cause them to leave, according to Huddleston.

The overall retention rate from the fall of 2014 to the fall of 2015 for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is 74 percent, for arts and humanities 75 percent and social and behavioral sciences 73 percent. The retention for students who hadn’t declared a major is 74 percent.

The education department has a retention rate of 80 percent, but this subtotal was not included in the total for all the colleges or programs because it is considered a second major, according to Vaden-Goad.

The University’s “Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence for 2015-2020,” details a baseline of 17.4 percent full-time faculty diversity, and 13.5 percent full-time staff diversity. The plan target is 21 percent for full-time faculty and 16 percent for full-time staff.

Huddleston said the administration doesn’t include part-time faculty or staff in the plan because full-time faculty can provide more stable numbers which is easier to track.

Huddleston said the University’s Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence “outpaces what are the expectations for the region in terms of diversity,” which is a 14.8 percent pool of available candidates in Massachusetts, to “stretch the expectations for the institution.”

To achieve this goal, Huddleston said the administration plans to have a broader reach in terms of recruiting, partnering with minority service institutions that offer P.hD. programs and create more information and training for faculty search committees “so there is a level of inclusion in every aspect” of the hiring process.

He added the Diversity Fellows Program was renamed the Mary Miles Bibb Faculty Fellowship in honor of the first African-American woman to graduate from FSU to provide “a little more meaning into what it was meant to do.”

The fellowship was intended to recruit more diverse faculty members who would have a one-year contract or assignment with the University which could grow into a tenure-track position, according to Huddleston.

“I think it was and is a good concept, but it just needed to be developed more,” he said, adding Susan Dargan, the dean of social and behavioral sciences, and her team’s work to “reimagine” the job description for the Diversity Fellows Program allows for more input regarding diversity among faculty.

The overall percentage of students who changed their major from fall 2014 to fall 2015 was 13 percent, or 101 students, while the percentage who stayed in their original major was 61 percent, or 494 students. Twenty-six percent, or 211, students did not return to FSU in the fall of 2015.

Vaden-Goad said the University is trying to increase the retention and graduation rates by focusing on student success.

She said the administration hired Lauren Keville as the director of student retention and graduation success. Keville started Dec. 7 and will form a committee consisting of students, faculty and staff to address these areas.

In an email, Vaden-Goad said, “We are all excited about the new committee. We will want students to join the committee. … When Lauren begins on Dec. 7, she will begin to reach out to students and they can watch for her email!”

Huddleston said Keville’s focus on retention will also impact persistence and graduation rates by looking at different factors, such as early intervention and the retention committee, which will help students if it “looks like they may be going off track,” and be a “collaborative approach to look at retention and graduation rates for students.”

The administration will also be implementing new software called Starfish, according to Vaden-Goad. She said the software will be an interactive way for students to connect with multiple areas, including scheduling appointmÅents in CASA and getting in touch with their advisors and professors.

Huddleston said Starfish is a retention tool which will help students connect with a team of people who can “provide them with the support that they need.”

Senior Alex Fiorillo said he thinks Starfish “will help track retention, but I don’t think it will necessarily help keep students here. It may prove to be more work than students want to put in.”

He said implementing more programs where students can interact with FSU alumni from their department will help students “see what they can do when they graduate.”

Vaden-Goad said, “We’re an active, vigorous school,” and although the retention numbers are good, she wants to look into the reasons students leave and why they are thinking about leaving.

She said there are many factors that can affect a student’s decision to leave college, including leaving to pursue a major FSU does not offer, personal or financial difficulties or not retaining a 2.0 GPA.

At her previous job as an academic dean at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), Vaden-Goad said WCSU had a program called “Wait a Day” for students who were thinking about transferring or leaving college. She said students would fill out the necessary paperwork, she would talk with them about their reasons for leaving and then wait to confirm the paperwork with them until the next day.

“The university has ways of helping students dealing with a very complicated life,” said Vaden-Goad, adding students can be struggling with “fairly heavy problems,” and sometimes this “made a tremendous difference” in helping students plan ways to address and fix the problems causing them to consider leaving.

Director of First-Year Programs Ben Trapanick said having a first-year programs office to help freshmen adjust to college is an important factor to retention. He said programs like Foundations, orientation and the first-year writing program help new students “get used to college expectations,” and are designed to help with transitioning and social skills.

The First-Year Experience floors in the residence halls, Black and Gold Beginnings and the Wet Feet Retreat also help first-year students adjust.

Allegra Robinson, a freshman, said, “The Wet Feet Retreat helped me because i saw people that I recognized from wet feet for the first couple weeks of school and made a really good friend while I was there, which made the transition easier.”

Trapanick said the Honors Program and honors-only seminars are also important. “The vast, vast majority of people joining the honors program are first years, so they not only have honors courses but they also have an honor’s house, an honors floor, so there’s a whole bunch of connections there.”

He added this is “not only a first-year retention effort, but a lot of first-year students are in there.”

Having a first-year office is important, but Trapanick believes the retention rate is impacted by many different factors. He said when he started working at FSU, the retention rate was approximately 68-69 percent, and then “we jumped as an institution to 74 or 75 percent over a couple of years.

“I think a lot of times, people try to say that one program or one policy has made the biggest difference in the retention rate, and I’m not sure that’s always the case. There’s a large effort. It’s understanding who your population is. … Retention is a campus-wide effort.”

Adam Scanlon, a freshman, said, “The Foundations class has been very helpful in the transition to college by providing information to my friends and myself on all the resources one can utilize.”

He added he enjoyed the Administrators’ Forums held on Tuesday Nov. 17 and Monday Nov. 30. “The two forums were very cool to voice student concerns, and I know big schools don’t do that.”

Junior Joeseph Grigg said when he started his major classes, his professors were helpful. “It was a positive environment, and it helped me become much more equipped, and they encouraged me to break out of my shell.”

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