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July 15, 2003 :: More Freshmen Staying in School and Graduating Sooner

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More freshmen attending Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities are returning for their second year and graduating sooner.

Those are the findings in the annual Student Data Report that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education released recently. The report uses data collected from Oklahoma’s colleges and universities and other sources to produce many of the primary student measures such as student preparation, enrollments, student transfer, persistence and access. Higher education officials and others regularly use this information to develop higher education plans and programs.

According to the latest report, which includes data through the 2001-02 school year, first-year retention rates for new freshmen who enrolled at the same or another Oklahoma college or university the following year increased from 88.6 percent in 1992-93 to 91.0 percent at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma. Retention rates for the same period also increased from 78.6 to 79.9 percent at the regional universities and from 66.3 to 67.6 percent at the two-year colleges.

The report also showed that during the same time frame first-year retention rates for new freshmen who remained at the same institution increased from 74.3 to 80.5 percent at OU and OSU and from 63.3 to 64.5 percent at the regional universities. Retention rates also increased within the institution at the two-year colleges from 52.9 to 54.4 percent.

“To see these percentages increase during the last decade is very gratifying, but there is certainly more work to be done” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “It’s extremely important that our students remain in college and graduate sooner in order to become part of Oklahoma’s workforce quicker.”

Figures from the Student Data Report also show that more new freshmen are indeed graduating sooner. From 1995-96 to 2001-02, the six-year graduation rates for new freshmen who graduated from the same or another Oklahoma college or university increased from 49.9 to 60.1 percent at OU and OSU and from 34.7 to 37.5 percent at the regional universities. At the two-year colleges, three-year graduation rates within the state increased from 15.4 to 19.2 percent.

For those new freshmen who graduated from the college or university where they first started college, six-year graduation rates increased from 44.0 to 54.6 percent at OU and OSU and from 27.6 to 30.3 percent at the regional universities. At the two-year colleges, three-year graduation rates for new freshmen increased from 14.3 to 18.5 percent.

“Once the students make that leap from their freshmen to their sophomore year, the chances of them graduating from college are greatly enhanced, and I think our colleges and universities are doing a better job of helping them get to that point,” Risser said, noting that students are coming to college better prepared.

Some of the examples institutions are undertaking to help their students stay in school from year to year include offering more distance education courses and flexible schedules that allow them to balance their lives among family, school and work. In addition, institutions are doing better at providing student support services and monitoring students who have been identified as “at-risk” such as those who may need some remediation or are first-generation college students.

The State Regents also recently began rewarding institutions with funding based on their annual performance in five key areas, including improving retention and graduation rates. This year, State Regents allocated approximately $2.2 million to colleges and universities that have met or exceeded their targets.