Retaining students through all required years of college and seeing them through graduation has become a major priority. President Obama announced in February 2009, the goal of the United States having the highest proportion of college graduates. In order to hit this goal, colleges will have to improve their ability to keep students in school so they can finish. Many schools all over the country are taking on this challenge by strengthening their retention programs. Here are just a few schools that have done well in their retention and graduation statistics recently.

The Connecticut State University System reports that “More undergraduate students are returning after their freshman year, continuing in higher education and graduating within six years across the Connecticut State University System (CSUS) institutions than ever before” in a recent news release. The report also explains that CT state colleges have been using various retention programs to help keep students actively motivated for completion.

“Mississippi State University’s retention rates remain the highest of all public universities in the state at 84 percent.” as revealed in The Reflector, the school’s newspaper. They use a retention program called Pathfinders, that tracks the attendance patterns of new freshman, and step in when attendance becomes an issue. They focus on freshman because, “What you do in those first six to eight weeks you’ll typically do for the rest of your academic career.”

Wayne State University in Michigan is also approaching a ten year high for retention and graduation. This coming from a school that has struggled with retention and graduation rates in the past. Their retention programs are now entering a turning point to support this improvement.

Colleges are taking an active role to keep students on track for graduation. However, these efforts depend on students to carry out their work and persevere through challenges to completion.

In order to assist in this call for retention, here are some key things a student can do:

1. Select an institution you can afford:

When completing exit interviews, a high percentage of students quote financial difficulties as a reason for leaving school. Financial difficulties in college are predictable in cases where there was poor planning in college choice. After the freshman year balances are paid, the family realizes that another 3 or 4 years of this is completely unaffordable. Other families realize they are overextended in debt and cannot take out any more student loans either. Commit to a very expensive school for freshman year only if you know you can pay for it.

2. Try a community college first:

Not sure if college is right for you or still need to figure out what major you really want? Go to a community college for the first year. During the time there you can complete basic college requirements and any remedial classes if needed. If you do very well, then consider transferring to a different school.

3. Give it the old “college try”:

The next biggest reason why students withdraw from college is because of poor academic performance. This is a lack of planning and preparation on a different level. Even if all the financial needs are well handled, if the student does not want to learn and does not want to go to class then it does not matter. This is a terrible waste. If given the opportunity to attend college, then take full advantage to learn and grow. If you do not want to go, and you a sure about your decision, then find something else to do and free up class space for someone else.

4. Carefully plan your schedule:

Make sure that you plan out your schedule every semester to cover your requirements. Make sure each class taken counts towards graduation. Avoid taking advanced level electives during the first two years of school. Instead, focus primarily on taking general electives and fundamental classes (think Math 1 and 2, English 1 and 2)

5. Stay engaged:

Students that are active on campus, talk to their teachers and feel good about their environment have a higher tendency of successful graduation. If you are confused by certain classes, go talk to the teacher as they are available to help you. Go to your school’s academic advisement center for extra help and tutoring. Talk to your classmates about a study group. The point is that when facing academic challenges, they are best handled by working together with your school community.

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