Student retention rates increase for Southern Utah colleges, including record high for SUU

ST. GEORGE — Retention rates are at historic highs for Southern Utah higher education institutions.

Retention rates are the calculation of the percent of students who return for a second year at a given university. In addition, universities might also track the number of sophomores who return for their junior year and so on.

Jared Tippets, Southern Utah University’s vice president for student affairs, told St. George News these rates remain an important metric for higher education institutions because students who remain at a university from their first to their second year are more likely to graduate and achieve their educational and personal goals.

“Our goal is to graduate as many students as we can, to try to change as many lives as we can,” Tippets said.

SUU announced in a press release Monday that the university’s retention rates have increased over 15% in the past four years, resting at 74% of first-year, full-time students who are returning for a second year. This is the highest retention has ever been for the university.

Southern Utah University, Cedar City, Utah, Sept. 4, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

Eric Kirby, SUU’s assistant vice president for student affairs for completion and student Success, said the university implemented a new program called the ASCEND Model just over a year ago. The model focuses on six key areas – affordability, support, culture, engagement, nudges and data – to promote a positive culture on and off campus.

Specifically, the university is working to develop its one-on-one peer mentoring programs, wholistic academic advisement and financial outreach and awareness programs. SUU is also creating a wide array of initiatives and events for students, faculty and the community to get involved in while building “Adulting 101” classes and holding campus meet-ups for introverted students.

120th annual Southern Utah University commencement, Cedar City, Utah, May 3, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

“I think in large part each of the pillars focuses in on something we know students struggle with,” Kirby said.

Research has illustrated to university officials that students have a variety of reasons for leaving SUU, but the more frequently occurring are economic hardship, a lack of connection to the campus or its students and roommate issues. Each of the pillars, he said, is meant to target these problem areas.

The university’s retention efforts have “lifted all boats” in that they are not benefiting only one or two student demographic groups. Rather, there has been an overall positive shift.

“We obviously have work to do, but none of our populations are being left behind in our retention pushes,” he said.

Dixie State University has also seen an increase, although retention rates have remained around the 50% mark. From fall 2018 to fall 2019, Dixie State retained over 58% of its full-time students, a significant increase from the over 54% retention rate from the year before. Over the last four years, the school has seen a five percentage point increase in full-time retention rates.

Darlene Dilley, assistant vice president for enrollment management, told St. George News the university is working on a number of ways to increase retention rates. In fact, she said, the fall to spring retention rate from 2018 to 2019 was higher than the university’s average.

“We are committed to improving our retention rates,” Dilley said.

The Brooks the Bison statue welcomes students new and old to the Dixie State University campus in St. George, Utah, Aug. 27, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

A few years ago, the university established the Student Success Center to support students and offer them an added resource to secure their degree or certification. Now, DSU has also established an assistant vice president for student success who oversees the Student Success Center and the peer coach program.

The university also added a Trailblazer Connections course to introduce new students to the resources available and problems they might face while attending a higher education institution. Research has shown that courses like this improve retention rates, she said, which is why the university is working to guide students to the course.

“Retention really starts before students even enroll here,” Dilley said. “So we revamped our whole student onboarding program.”

Dixie State is also working to offer more ways for students to get involved outside of the classroom with intramural sports, clubs and employment opportunities on campus. Dilley said national studies have recognized that students who are involved on campus are more likely to stay with the university than students who are not.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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