The freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for ethnic minorities enrolled full time at the University of Arizona has surpassed 80 percent for the first time.

Among the students who enrolled as first-time freshman in the fall of 2012, 80.9 percent returned, up from 79.7 percent for those starting in fall 2011 and 74 percent for those who began in fall 2010.

Freshman-to-sophomore retention for all new students who began in 2012 was at 81.5 percent. Student diversity also is up. During the fall semester, more than 36 percent of students were minorities, up from 34.9 percent during the fall of 2012 and 24.4 percent a decade ago.

"We have definitely made strong gains," said Jeff Orgera, the senior assistant vice president forStudent Affairs and Enrollment Management.

The UA also saw a record retention rate for Hispanic students starting in fall 2012. Their freshman-to-sophomore retention rate was 81 percent, up from 74.4 percent in 2010.

Based on a 2010 to 2012 comparison, the rate is increasing for students across the board:

  • African Americans – from 64.3 percent to 75.2 percent.
  • American Indians – from 67 percent to 75.7 percent.
  • Asian/Pacific Islanders – from 81 percent to 84.7 percent.
  • Whites – from 78.5 percent to 81.3.

The figures put the UA on track to meet Arizona Board of Regents 2020 goals, which aim for a freshman retention rate of 85-90 percent at all state three state institutions.

"Across the state of Arizona and the nation, a primary role of universities is to increase the number of adults with college degrees, which leads to higher income, social mobility and provides employers with a highly trained and skilled workforce," Orgera said.

"Completing a degree at the UA is not only valuable for students as individuals, but also for their families and extended families, and pays dividends to our state and economy," he said. "The goals we have for retention and degree completion align directly with President (Barack) Obama's goal of regaining the international lead in college attainment by 2020."

At the UA, a number of factors have contributed to the increased first-year retention rate, Orgera said, pointing to the University's move toward advancing a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to student retention and success.

"We are beginning to create momentum around the idea that it is everyone’s job to facilitate the success and retention for all UA students," Orgera said.

"Because the UA is a large, dynamic, and innovative public institution, we needed to focus on creating collaborative work teams that examined our policies, instructional approaches, the use of technology and the delivery of our student programming," he said. "As a result of having diverse perspectives around the table, we have increased the impact we can each have on the success of students."

Efforts to bolster academic support got a boost with the creation of the Think Tank, which offers academic services like drop-in tutoring and supplemental instruction, a free service that offers regularly scheduled study sessions that are led by students and complement their coursework.

To keep students moving toward graduation, the UA offers Degree Tracker, an online tool that provides information about their academic progress and sends alerts when students have not registered for courses. Another feature notifies advisers when students change majors so they can extend their support. Services like Scholarship Universe match students with tailored financial opportunities.

"Our college partners and faculty now have more available options for connecting their students to valuable resources and we have more robust retention and success departments," Orgera said.

Also, the UA continues to offer the New Start summer bridge program and the Support Services/TRiO program, which help incoming students with their transition from high school. Likewise, Arizona Assurance, which assists Arizona freshmen from low-socioeconomic backgrounds by providing academic, financial and social support to ensure they succeed their first year, continue their studies and graduate.

"Our goal is to get students connected right away – in the first four to eight weeks on campus they are making decisions about whether this is the right place for them," Orgera said. 

"We continue to improve how we deliver services to support student success and ensure that all our students are getting connected to the UA experience, which helps to retain them," he said. "Clearly, we've made great progress, but there is still more that must be done to meet ABOR's 90 percent retention goal, and we are excited to do that work."

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