Retention tops 70% for the second year in a row

Published: September 23, 2014
By: John Mielke
For the second consecutive year, first-year to second-year retention for first-time, full-time freshmen topped 70 percent at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. "We are seeing the positive results of our student-success initiatives," said UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford. "Retention translates into graduates, and that means we are fulfilling the Parkside mission by providing the talent our region needs."
First-year to second-year retention has risen from 61.9 percent for students who first enrolled in fall 2011, to 73.8 percent for those who first enrolled in fall 2013. The improvement will impact the number of students earning a degree for years to come.

"Our ability to meet the needs of the greater region lies in strong retention," Ford said. "This leading indicator of student success is a result of strategic, highly focused and broad-based enrollment planning. Inside of a strategic enrollment process the university is seeking not just more students, but more students ideally suited to succeed at the university level and at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside." 

For the fall 2014 semester, the university also saw an increase in the number of transfer students, and student credit hours. Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management DeAnn Possehl said the increase in student credit hours is to be expected given the trend of more full-time students at the university. "It's an interesting dynamic," she said. "Our overall enrollment slipped this year, and we were anticipating that. But the amount of courses being taken has increased because of our efforts to attract more full-time students." 

The number of full-time students has increased almost 5 percent in the past two years. The majority of full-time students see a shorter time to degree. Possehl noted that the university continually works to help students understand how that impacts the cost of their education. 

Decline in High School Graduates
Throughout the UW System this year, institutions experienced a lower number of freshman applications. That is directly related to the decline in the number of high school graduates in Wisconsin since 2008. According to Wisconsin high school graduate projections from the Applied Population Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the number of high school graduates will not rebound to the 2010 level until 2019. 

"As we began developing the strategic plan in 2008, we knew there would be fewer high school graduates for the next decade," Possehl said. "We continue to put a great deal of effort into recruiting new students. However, we know that retaining students and attracting more transfer students is key to our enrollment plan." 

The university took what some might view as a risk, given the decline in high school graduates, when it became more selective. "We are about affordable, accessible education and helping all students in the region achieve their education and career goals," said Troy Moldenhauer, director of recruitment and admission at Parkside. "For some, earning a four-year degree means they need a bridge to our campus." 

In the past two years, the average ACT score for incoming students has risen from 20.94 in 2011 to 21.28 this fall. "One of the hardest things to do is to tell students who really want the chance to succeed at Parkside that we can't accept them at this time," Moldenhauer said. "But the partnerships in place with other institutions of higher education are designed to create that bridge and provide students with opportunities. That's one reason why we are seeing more transfer students." 

When Chancellor Ford arrived at Parkside in August 2009, she immediately began building education partnerships with technical colleges in southeastern Wisconsin. In September 2013, Parkside expanded agreements with Gateway Technical College. "Forward Together" provided new opportunities for Gateway business graduates to enter the Parkside business program, accredited by AACSB International, with junior standing. 

Ford also reached across the Wisconsin-Illinois state line to strengthen connections with the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill. "We are able to offer a very high-quality education and we are also one of the most affordable options in the UW System," Possehl said. "For students from Gateway and the College of Lake County, and others in our region, it's all about having more opportunities for success." 

Even with two or three years of success, Ford knows the strategic work is just beginning. Parkside is proud to be among the first UW System universities that will offer competency-based certificates as part of the UW FLEX OPTION degree program. New majors in marketing and accounting, along with a revitalized educator development program for teacher licensure, are a response to the needs of the region.   

"In addition, we're creating more partnerships with universities in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America to offer greater opportunity for our students to gain a global perspective during their experience at Parkside," Ford said. "And we continue our focus of offering the most diverse learning environment in the UW System. 

"Of course, we want to be successful as an institution. The true measure of our success, however, will be the long-term success of our graduates. Are we providing our graduates with the educational foundation they will require for decades to come? I believe we are."   
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