Increasing retention and graduation rates mean more success for our students and more success for DePaul. Even though current rates are competitive already, driving these numbers upward is an objective in the university’s Vision 2108 strategic plan.
There has been a steady increase in four-year graduation rates in recent years. Fifty-six percent of freshmen who started in 2008 graduated in four years, the highest rate ever and up from 43 percent for the 2003 class. Furthermore, 68 percent of full-time freshmen who started in 2006 graduated from DePaul six years later, up slightly from 67 percent for the 2005 class.
A key to keeping students enrolled and on pace to graduate in four years is what happens during the first year, says Caryn Chaden, associate vice president for Academic Affairs.
Research shows students who complete their freshman year with a 2.5 GPA and 48 hours of course credits are highly likely to graduate within four-to-five years, but those who do not are more likely to leave DePaul without completing a degree. A new set of initiatives called Foundations for Success is expected to help more students to hit these milestones.
This project has been approved to meet the new accreditation requirement from the Higher Learning Commission that universities engage in a “Quality Initiative” over several years of the 10-year accreditation cycle. As an institution in good standing, DePaul was allowed to create its own project, and the university chose to address this issue that reflects our mission to serve a broad array of students, including many who are the first in their families to go to college.
“Most students meet the GPA target,” Chaden says. “Far more fail to complete 48 credits. It doesn’t take long and it’s four years plus one quarter, then five years to graduate.”
That trend is already documented. Bachelor’s degree recipients in 2011-12 who entered DePaul as freshmen took four years and one quarter, on average, to complete their degrees. Bachelor’s degree recipients who entered as transfers took, on average, three years and one quarter to complete their degrees in colleges other than the School for New Learning, whose students took five years.
More can be done to ensure every student finishes his or her academic program successfully. Several new efforts are underway to move closer to that aspiration.
Learning Commons – This new space in the Richardson Library clusters support resources into a single location, allowing students to seek academic assistance from the Writing Center, the Science and Math Learning Center, the Career Center, the Office of Multicultural Student Success and the College of Education Success Center.
Early Feedback – All deans have asked faculty to provide feedback on an assignment by the end of the third week of class so students can gauge how they are doing in the class and fine-tune as necessary.
Improved Course Access – New course scheduling software will allow academic planners to see how many students need certain classes to graduate and where they are in the pipeline so those classes can be offered when needed to keep students progressing toward graduation.
Piloting Learning Community Models – Students in several colleges will be offered the opportunity to take a pair of courses together as a group: a Chicago Quarter course focused on the college’s set of majors, such as business, science and computing, and a second course chosen by the college. The goal is for potential majors to get a better feel for that college and develop relationships with students with similar interests.
The success of this project will be measured in multiple ways, including metrics of students’ success, students’ participation in the initiatives and survey data, which is expected to show increased attention to retention and graduation rates can be a win for everyone.