University of Vermont

University Communications

New Record Set for Retention, Graduation Rates, with Vermont Students Leading the Way

Release Date: 10-29-2010

Author: Jeffrey R. Wakefield
Email: Jeffrey.Wakefield@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-2005 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Vermont students are not just attending the University of Vermont in near record numbers, they're staying and graduating at historically high rates, the university announced at a press conference today.

Diversity enrollment also reached an historic milestone this fall, officials announced.

First-year retention -- the percentage of students who return to college after their freshman year, a widely accepted indicator of student engagement and success -- is 91 percent for in-state sophomores this fall at UVM, tying last year's all time high. In 2000 first-year retention of Vermont students was 83.8 percent.

A total of 644 Vermont students enrolled at UVM in the fall of 2009, the second highest incoming class in the last 15 years. Total Vermont enrollment is 3,277, one of the highest totals since the mid 1990's.

Six- and four-year graduation rates for Vermonters also set records this year. The six-year rate for students graduating in May 2010 was 80.5 percent, up from 67.9 percent in 2000. The four-year rate was 64.8 percent, compared with 51.4 percent ten years ago.

"This is a high water mark for UVM," said UVM president Daniel Mark Fogel. "Student quality has never been higher, our faculty are setting new records in research productivity, unrestricted annual giving is up, and we've significantly upgraded our physical campus. But nothing is more important that student success. Our higher education institutions need to do more than simply attract young people to college, we need to help them succeed once they get here. At UVM, we're doing exactly that."

UVM's in-state first year retention of 91 percent would rank it 23rd compared with overall retention rates in 2009 at the nation's 163 public doctoral universities, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The vast majority of students at those schools come from in-state, and out-of-state students tend to raise overall averages.

The in-state six-year graduation rate of 80.5 percent would rank it 17th compared with overall six-year rates on the same list of 163 schools.

The average six-year graduation rate at public doctoral universities in the U.S. is 57 percent.

While Vermonters outperform their out-of-state counterparts in both the retention and graduation rate categories, overall rates at UVM have also risen sharply in the last decade. First-year retention for the fall of 2010 was 86.9 percent, the second highest total in university history, up from 79.9 percent a decade ago. The six-year graduation was 76.3 percent, also the highest in university history, up from 66.8 percent in 2000.

A first in diversity enrollment

UVM's recently completed report on fall enrollment, which will be presented to the university's Board of Trustees on Friday, contains another important first. For the first time in UVM history, enrollment of ALANA (Asian-American, Latino/Latina, African-American, Native American, and multi-racial) students reached 10 percent of the overall undergraduate class this fall. The ALANA enrollment of 1,376 students, a 21 percent increase over last year, is more than three times higher than 10 years ago, when 445 ALANA students made up only 4.4 percent of the undergraduate population.

"Reaching an ALANA enrollment of 10 percent is a very significant milestone," said Fogel, "especially in a state like Vermont, which is among the least diverse in the nation. It's my strong belief that we have turned a corner and will see increasing numbers of students of color enriching our campus in coming years."

ALANA students also set a record for first-year retention, with 91 percent of last year's first-year students returning to UVM this fall.

"We aren't just attracting growing numbers of ALANA students to UVM," Fogel said. "We're making good progress toward creating a welcoming and academically engaging environment that is enabling them to succeed."

UVM also has an enrollment of 318 international students, according to the enrollment report, up 28 percent over last year and another record.

UVM's advance comes at a time when the federal government aims to halt a slide in its global rankings related to college completion. Since the 1990s, the United States has dropped from first place among developed nations in the percent of its young workers with a college degree to 12th. Last year, President Obama set a goal of returning the U.S. to the number one spot by 2020.

Ambitious goals

Fogel credited UVM's success in improving retention and graduation rates to a host of programs the university has put in place over the last decade, all of which -- research has shown -- impact student engagement.

Since 2000 UVM has added five new residential learning communities, boosted undergraduate research opportunities, offered significantly more service learning courses, expanded first-year seminars, piloted writing-intensive programs, and promoted more collaborative assignment and projects in the classroom, all "high impact activities" promoting student success and satisfaction, according to George D. Kuh, director of the Center for Postsecondary Research Faculty at Indiana University and a leading expert on factors that effect retention and graduation rates.

UVM has also significantly raised the academic quality of its student body over the last decade, with SAT scores rising an average 50 points at the 25th and 75th percentile for incoming first-year students, another factor that affects retention and graduation rates.

In addition, the university has strengthened and consolidated its Diversity and Equity Unit over the past decade and formed, within the Office of the President, a Commission on Racial Diversity. Both actions, officials said, have been instrumental in improving campus climate issues that are contributing to rising ALANA retention rates.

Even more is planned for the future. Building on a report the First Year Experience Task Force presented to the Board of Trustees last May, UVM has begun a comprehensive process that, by the end of the academic year, will yield a multi-faceted plan to help the university achieve its ambitious goals: a first-year retention rate of 92 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 83 percent for all students by 2020.

"It will be a challenge to reach our goals," Fogel said. "But given the success we've had this past decade, I think they are very much within reach."