“We are celebrating today an extraordinary accomplishment for this University,” Cárdenas said. “I am here to tell you and to celebrate that this year The University of Texas-Pan American has achieved a retention of freshmen to sophomores that exceeds the national average. The national average for retention of students at like universities is 71.6 percent and UTPA this year achieved a freshman to sophomore retention rate of 72.7.”
Cárdenas said the rates reflect that first-time, full-time freshmen enrolled at UTPA are returning the following year to continue their education.
The retention rate increase is a tremendous boost to the University that eight years ago experienced a more than 50 percent loss of first-year students said Dr. John Edwards, UTPA vice president for Enrollment and Student Services.
“In the freshmen class of 1998 through fall year of 1999 only 57 percent of entering freshmen were making it into the sophomore class one year later. That means out of 1,800 students that were coming in as freshmen more than 1,000 were dropping out during that year. What a loss to our University and what a potential loss to our Valley,” Edwards said. “We knew that we had to take steps to get students better prepared coming in as well as assist those students in focusing on graduation once they were here.”
Cárdenas cited several initiatives implemented through the Division of Academic Affairs to assist first-year students including the Learning Framework course intended to enhance student success in college; mandatory advisement through the Academic Advisement and Mentoring Center; and the implementation of new admissions requirements.
Dr. Ana Maria Rodriguez, associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies, highlighted the UNIV 1301: Learning Framework course as key in the retention rate boom. Learning Framework began in fall 2004 and all incoming freshmen at UTPA with 30 hours or less are required to complete the course that focuses on research, theory and application of the psychology of learning, cognition and motivation. The establishment of the course was made possible through a five-year $2.5 million Title V Hispanic Serving Institution grant.
“Many students come to the University with a lot of the skills that are required to be successful in college, but many do not come with those skills and that is what we try to give them in this course,” Rodriguez said. “The course is designed to not only help with the transition from high school to college, but to also help them the rest of their lives. It is a life learning experience that we are trying to give students in this particular course.”
For Rey Garcia, a UTPA accounting sophomore, taking the required Learning Framework course as a freshman helped him learn how to balance school and his other responsibilities.
Garcia said the course taught him time management skills and put him on the path to a great education. As a sophomore he said he has managed to maintain a 3.7 grade point average. “This is an excellent course...,” Garcia said. “At the beginning this is one of those courses that you have to take, but once you take it, you learn a lot of valuable and key strategies to improve your education, but also find a balance in your life.”
With the freshmen retention rate steadily improving, Rodriguez said the administration will also be focusing on the sophomore retention rates in the future and ensuring the students in the fall 2006 class graduate in four years.
“Our next major challenge is to get the fall 2006 class graduated by 2010 and I really believe that we can do that,” Rodriguez said.
This fall semester, 17,330 students enrolled at UTPA and 2,590 are freshmen, making it the largest cohort of freshmen in UTPA’s history.
In addition, Cárdenas announced the number of Student Credit Hours at the University has jumped with undergraduate and graduate students taking 194,167 credit hours this semester.
“We have increased 20,000 credit hours in the last four years and what that means is more of our students are taking more courses and are coming back and that positions the University well for allocation of formula funding,” Cárdenas said.
Formula funding is defined as a system by which the Legislative Budget Board allocates general revenue funds to Texas colleges and universities and is generally based on Semester Credit Hours.
With the retention rate and semester credit hours rising, Cárdenas said those numbers will eventually translate into increased graduation rates for the University. Last year UTPA awarded more than 2,800 graduates their degrees.
UTPA’s four-year graduation rate is at 13.4 percent for full-time students who enrolled in fall 2002. The five-year graduation rate stands at 23.3 percent for the fall 2001 cohort, while the six-year graduation rate is at 33 percent for the cohort enrolled in fall 2000. The national average graduation rate according to the U.S. Department of Education is more than 50 percent.
“The number of students that are graduating is also steadily increasing…We have a set target for this cohort of students that we will reach the national average in graduation rates for UTPA four years from now when these students graduate,” she said.