The University of Texas-Pan American was recently awarded $2.1 million by the United States Department of Education to be used for student retention initiatives.
"The Department of Education earmarked a sum of money under Title V to assist institutions of higher education who serve primarily Hispanic students," said Dr. Ana Maria Rodriguez, associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies. "This is the first major grant the University has received specifically for improving overall student retention."
Student retention is the rate at which educational institutions are able to keep students who are admitted from the time they enter college to the time they graduate, Rodriguez said.
At UTPA, figures are calculated for entering freshmen. The entering freshman cohort is tracked through the second, third, fourth year until the students graduate. The retention rate is the rate at which students continue to enroll for the second, third, fourth year and until graduation.
"Another way to define retention is to look at it in terms of how many students continue their college education from one year to another," Rodriguez said. "The rate is important in looking at how long it takes our students to graduate."
This year, the University was able to increase the entering freshmen retention rate to 67 percent.
The grant is awarded for five years and will be used to fund two activities that have been successful in increasing student retention.
"The first activity will focus on improving student retention and time to graduation through programmatic and curricular innovations," Rodriguez said. "The second major activity will focus on faculty and staff development."
The goal is that all full-time freshmen with 29 semester hours or less will have the opportunity to participate in a learning framework course that will assist them with learning, motivation and academic success. These students will also participate in learning communities in developmental and/or core curriculum courses.
The grant will provide resources for faculty and staff who will teach the learning framework courses and learning communities, Rodriguez said. They will have the opportunity to participate in professional development workshops and conferences that will help them implement new teaching strategies.
Implementation of the learning framework course and learning communities initiatives to improve retention and time to graduation is a long-term goal for UTPA.
The total cost of full implementation of the initiatives for five years is estimated at $4,677,117. The federal government will contribute 45 percent of the cost, a total of $2,104,488 through the Title V-Hispanic Serving Institutions grant. UTPA will eventually contribute 55 percent of the cost at $2,572,629.