Michigan Universities Look to Boost Student Retention Rates

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Michigan’s colleges and universities are seeking to build upon a 61 percent graduation rate, along with encouraging more freshmen and sophomores to stay in class, with the second annual student retention conference, being held today and Thursday at the Marriott Hotel in Troy.

“Nationally, the graduation rate is about 57 percent for four-year institutions, and about 34 percent for the community colleges,” says Susan M. Awbrey, senior associate provost and professor of education at Oakland University in Rochester Hills. “It’s been steady for many, many years, and that’s one of the issues. We’re asking: How can we improve this? How can we help students to achieve their dream?”

In order to address those goals, the event — drawing representatives from Michigan’s 15 public universities as well as representatives from private institutions and community colleges — will look at “high-impact practices.” Awbrey seeks to add more programs that engage students such as study abroad programs and undergraduate research.

“Institutions like Oakland University are especially interested in this because we have a large commuter population, and (we) tend to need (more) ways to engage those students,” she says.

A common thread between the schools with the highest graduation rates — including Michigan State University and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor — is that they have residential options, Awbrey says.

Oakland University’s first- to second- year student retention rate rose to 78 percent this year — up 8 percent from last year’s mark. Awbrey attributes the growth to the launch of the First Year Advising Center in 2012, along with Foundations of Excellence, a national project that encourages colleges and universities to improve the design and implementation of a student’s first-year experience.

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