UConn students are returning to campus yearly and graduating in record numbers, but university officials warn the momentum will be quashed if lawmakers do not protect the state’s annual allocation to help hire talented faculty and provide strong student support networks.
UConn’s retention rates – the percentage of freshmen returning for their sophomore year – have been so high in recent years that they have been a major factor in helping UConn reach its record-high No. 18 spot among public universities in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings.
As [our] retention and graduation rates show, every dollar of [state] investment pays off immeasurably. — President Susan Herbst
Freshmen who joined UConn in fall 2016 returned at a 94 percent rate for their second year. They are only the second cohort to reach that rate; the first was the class that entered in fall 2012.
In fact, that fall 2012 cohort continues to set records, reaching the highest-yet four-year graduation rate last year at 73 percent, and now hitting a new high with a five-year rate of 84 percent.
UConn’s highest-ever six-year graduation rate is 83 percent, set by four previous cohorts. The University will know next year whether the freshmen who entered in 2012 will exceed that and set a new record for the percentage graduating in six years or less.
The average time for UConn Storrs graduates to earn their degree is 4.2 years, ranking it fourth out of 58 public research universities nationwide.
“These outstanding numbers were only achievable – and can only be maintained – with strong state support for UConn,” UConn President Susan Herbst says of the graduation and retention figures, compiled by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and released by its Retention & Graduation Task Force.
“It is that state support that allows us to hire the faculty we need in order to offer the essential courses students need, when they need them, so they can thrive at UConn and graduate on time,” Herbst says. “Our state appropriation also allows us to create strong support networks for students. As these retention and graduation rates show, every dollar of that investment pays off immeasurably. Losses in state support will send these numbers in the wrong direction.”
The new state budget includes a reduction for the University totaling at least $143 million over the next two years. That is almost equal to all the reductions in state support that UConn has faced since 2010 combined.
Herbst has said the University is committed to protecting its academic enterprise, which includes the many programs in place across campus to help students continue their college careers each year toward graduation.
Some other high points in the new retention and graduation figures show:
- Students who entered UConn in fall 2011 had a six-year graduation rate of 83 percent, matching the record-high six-year rate of the cohorts from 2005, 2007, and 2009. That’s the record that the high-achieving fall 2012 cohort could break next year.
- Students in the fall 2013 cohort who are from underrepresented backgrounds had the highest four-year graduation rate – 66 percent – of any minority cohort before them.
- The current six-year graduation rate for minorities is 77 percent, based on the most recent data reflecting students who started in fall 2011.
- Graduation rates are increasing for many minority students, notably Hispanic students. For instance, Hispanic males in the class that started in fall 2011 had a six-year graduation rate of 73 percent, a notable improvement over the 66 percent rate of the class ahead of them.
- Overall, the total six-year rate for all Hispanic students in the fall 2011 cohort was 78 percent, up 6 percent from the previous year’s class.
- UConn Storrs has the 17th best retention rates among the 58 public research universities in the average number of freshmen who return for their sophomore year.
Wayne Locust, UConn’s vice president for enrollment planning and management, says that while the University works hard to attract excellent students during the admissions process, the work to help them adjust and thrive at UConn continues throughout their time on campus.
“We never make the assumption that they’re going to be fine and just leave them alone,” he says. “There’s a strong support network and infrastructure in place that supports our desire for students to have a successful college career here.”
A wide range of services are in place to support students at all stages, including some summer programs – such as the Engineering Bridge Program for incoming freshmen, the First Summer program, and the robust Orientation offerings.
Once students are on campus, a variety of other offerings are available to help them adjust, including the First-Year Experience program, Learning Communities in the residence halls, and personalized assistance through the Academic Achievement Center and the Student-Athlete Success Program.
Another critical resource is the Center for Academic Programs, which is in its 50th year of serving first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students at UConn. Students take two courses in the summer before their freshman year, receive individualized counseling, and learn about resources on campus that will be helpful during their college careers. They remain connected with the program through graduation, including many who are able to take advantage of the chance to study abroad for a semester.
Making strategic plans for the use of financial aid at UConn is also another element of helping retain students and put them on the path to graduation.
The University tries to ensure that students’ aid packages are predictable from one year to the next so they do not face unexpected shortfalls, and works with them on providing what are informally known as last-mile grants in certain cases when they are close to graduation but have exhausted other resources.
David Ouimette, executive director of UConn First-Year Programs and Learning Communities, affirms that having multiple programs in place across campus provides safety nets and enrichment opportunities for students, helping them find their place and set their path forward.
“One of the most important things is that our students feel a sense of belonging to UConn and that they know they’re valued here,” Ouimette says. “We know that everyone’s transition from high school to college is different, and everything we do is to help them navigate whatever issues they encounter and reach the goal of graduation that drew them here.”