12:00 AM

Ohio State bucks trend for student retention

While a new survey shows fewer college freshmen returning to their colleges for their sophomore year, The Ohio State University is finding just the opposite among first year Buckeyes.

An annual survey conducted by ACT, Inc., a non profit testing and research group, found that for the 2007-08 academic year, 66 percent of first-year college students returned to the same institution for their second year of college, the lowest percentage since 1989.

At Ohio State, a record 92.4 percent of first year students returned to campus for their sophomore year in 2007 and 92.8 percent returned last September (2008). The rate has climbed steadily since 1996, when freshmen retention stood at 79 percent.

According to the ACT survey, retention rates vary widely among different types of schools. They remain significantly higher at four-year schools (71 percent) than at two-year schools (54 percent). The survey found retention at two-year colleges on the upswing. Fifty-four percent of students at two-year public colleges returned for their second year in 2007-8, up from 51 percent the previous year.

The increases in retention at Ohio State are the result of some very careful planning and programming, according to Mabel Freeman, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Admissions and First Year Experience. She says Ohio State is a great illustration of the connection between better-prepared students and higher freshman-sophomore retention rates.

"We are going out and identifying students who are academically prepared to be here because we know that well-prepared students are most likely to succeed in college," said Freeman.

Ohio State students continue to enter college better prepared for academic success. For the 14th consecutive year, the incoming first-year class in fall 2008 is the best-prepared in history, with an average ACT score of 27.3. Fifty-four percent of freshmen were in the top 10 percent of their high school class, and 91 percent were in the top 25 percent,

Freeman says in addition to recruiting well-prepared students, "we are very honest when we describe Ohio State as a major, large, public, research, challenging, urban-located, diverse university. We want students to know what kind of atmosphere to expect."

Additionally, Freeman notes the success of the campus-wide efforts to address the needs of students who transition into here, to help them adjust and meet the academic challenges of the first year.

"From academic advising to First Year Experience programming to Student Life, Ohio State works diligently to provide the extra attention needed for entering freshmen and transfer students," said Freeman. "We are the largest campus in the nation, but we also have numerous communities within the university that create very personalized experiences for our students."

According to Freeman, the three biggest reasons that students don't return for their sophomore year are academics, finances, or not feeling connected to the institution.

"People assume that big, public universities don't pay attention to the needs of individual students. But at Ohio State we know we are big and thus we have to work even harder to support our students so that we not only retain them – but more importantly that they graduate with an Ohio State diploma."

In fact, the university recently unveiled a series of steps to ensure all enrolled students have the financial assistance necessary to enable them to complete their degree programs.