With an eye on graduation rates, the University of Minnesota has set forth guideposts to help improve what they call the “undergraduate experience.”
This includes everything from new recruitment techniques to improving advising to increasing the four-year graduation rate.
“This has to be a holistic effort,” Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Robert McMaster said to a Board of Regents committee Thursday. “This really has to be a message through the whole [University] community.”
Freshman enrollment has steadily grown over the past five years from 28,645 to 30,519. And while first year applications increased from 24,658 in 2006 to 36,800 in 2010, McMaster said this rate has been leveling off and will continue to in the next few years as the number of high school graduates within the state shrinks.
The numbers “deceptively underestimate” the challenge of continuing to improve the number of students that succeed, committee chair Regent Patricia Simmons said.
McMaster said a critical part of improving graduation rates is improving first-year retention rates, which has gone from 84.4 percent retention for first years who began in fall 2000 to 89.5 percent for those who began in fall 2009 — half a percent less than the original goal set forward by the committee.
The OUE plans to continue work on retention by enhancing first-year programs such as Welcome Week, ensuring availability for courses students need and sending the “message [of] 30 credits per year as ‘normal.’”
At 29.4 percent, the University has a high number of transfer students when compared to the University of Iowa’s 22 percent and the University of Wisconsin’s 17.1 percent.
It was discussed that a closer relationship with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, who churn out a majority of these students, will be necessary to ensure readiness.
With the goal of reaching a 60 percent four-year graduation rate for the class that started in fall 2008, there’s “a lot of ground to make up,” McMaster said. “But we think we can do it.
The four-year graduation rate has increased from 15.2 percent in 1996 to 50 percent in 2010.
Over the same period, the five-year rate went from 38.1 percent to 66.2 percent and the six-year rate from 43.5 percent to 70.4 percent.
To help increase the number in the four-year column and get to that 60 percent, the OUE created the Center for Academic Planning and Exploration.
The advising center opened in September and aims to help students who are having trouble deciding on a major.
There’s also APlus, a new automated advising tool that provides real-time data to academic advisers. This helps make it easier for them to inform students what courses they need to graduate.
In terms of overall size, the perception, McMaster said, is that the University is very large at the undergraduate level, but it’s relatively average in size compared to others in the Big Ten.
Still, McMaster said University preparedness is key in moving forward.
“For any kind of particular growth … the budget model becomes the issue,” he said. “If one is going to grow enrollment, there has to be the commensurate growth in resources for the curriculum.”
UMN students have traveled to Florida colleges to collaborate with students on various projects.
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