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Is The NEF Retention Rate All That Important?
by Silence Dogood

The third issue of the HuskyData Newsletter, a regular newsletter dedicated to sharing data and information about SCSU and our students” focuses on the 30th day enrollment numbers came out on Thursday, October 16, 2014.

From the data in the Figure it looks like the trend is going in the right direction. The increase from 70.5% to 72.8% represents a one-year increase of 3.3%. This is probably something that should be considered a success. However, the number of New Entering Freshmen (NEF) in Fall’13 (1,703) decreased from Fall’12 (1,949) by 246 students, which corresponds to a drop of 12.6% so this might temper the euphoria of the small success of increasing the NEF retention rate. If students aren’t enrolled, they can’t be retained!

A retention rate of 72.8% of 1,703 students means that 1,240 students returned for classes in Fall’14. If the retention rate had been 70.5%, as it was for the previous year, a total of 1,200 students would have returned. As a result, due to the increase in the retention rate, 40 additional students returned to campus this fall. An increase of 40 additional students increased the 30th day enrollment of 15,416 students by a whopping 0.26%.

Why quibble, an increase is an increase, right? At the same time that there were 40 additional students retained, there were also 246 fewer NEF to be retained. Had the NEF cohort been the same as the prior year (1,949) and 70.5% were retained (the same retention rate for Fall’12), this would have returned 1,374 students, which would be 134 students larger than the number actually returned for Fall’14! As a result, the increase in retention rate generated 40 additional students while the decrease in NEF lost 134 students. It certainly shouldn’t be one or another but the net effect of both. When both are considered the NEF decrease swamps any increase resulting from an increase in the retention rate.

Last year, the administration at Meet and Confer (September 5, 2013) stated that it had reduced the number of NEF by 160 for Fall’13 by reducing the number of students who did not meet the admission requirements for the DGS (now ACE) program. The reduction of 160 students represents a drop in the number of NEF from the prior year by 8.2%. However, the actual drop in NEF totaled 246 students so there were an additional 84 fewer NEF students than had been supposedly planned for. A drop of 246 NEF corresponds to a drop of 12.6%. Drops in NEF are significant because they aren’t available to be retained for up to as many as six years, which translates into a lot of lost tuition revenue.

The DGS/ACE program had an enrollment of 500 students in Fall’12. A Figure handed out at Meet and Confer on September 5, 2013 is reproduced below.

For Fall’13 the DGS/ACE program reduced its numbers from the previous year’s 500 students to 349 students, which corresponds to a drop of about 1/3rd of the students. The purpose of the drop in the numbers of students in the DGS/ACE program was made very clear by the administration at Meet and Confer on September 5, 2013.

The clear assumption is that if the number of students who did meet the admission requirements were reduced, the retention rate would go up. Let’s assume that the increase in retention rate from 70.5% to 72.8% was entirely due to having 160 fewer DGS/ACE students. If those 160 had been admitted in Fall’13, the NEF number for Fall’13 would have been 1,863 instead of 1,703. Applying the retention rate of 70.5% to 1,863 students would yield 1,313 students. The difference between 1,240 students and 1,313 students is 73 students. If only 73 students out of 160 students were retained, this would lead to a retention rate for those 160 DGS students of 45.6%.

This then begs the question. If the DGS/ACE program has a retention rate less than 50%, should there be a DGS/ACE program at all? If the retention rate of 45.6% is applied to the 349 DGS NEF in the class of 2013, only 159 would have been retained in Fall’14. Since 1,240 students were retained that means 1,081 of the retained students were ‘regular’ admissions. The retention rate for ‘regular’ admissions is therefore 79.8%. Thus, if you want to increase your retention rate, simply eliminate the DGS/ACE program!

Unfortunately, this logic does not recognize that historically in the 1990s the DGS program had higher retention rates and five-year graduation rates than ‘regular’ students. So, it’s not quite that simple. Clearly, the DGS program has changed and the academic profile of new entering students has changed so, at best, we need to recognize that the current DGS program is not as successful as it has been historically.

From Minnesota State University—Mankato’s 2012-2017 Enrollment Management Plan,

A Table of Mankato’s NEF retention rate from Fall 2000 through Fall 2012 as reproduced from the Academic Data Summary 2009-10 through 2013-14 is shown.

Mankato’s Enrollment Management Plan also states “this rate often leads the MnSCU Universities…”

Clearly, there are significant differences in the retention rates at SCSU and Mankato, recognizing these differences and trying to understand them is important if the goal is to affect a change in the current trajectory. By almost every measure, MSU—Mankato seems to be out performing SCSU. While it may not be a competition in some sense, I can’t imagine aspiring to be second—that just sounds almost un-American!

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