UVU, Dixie search for solutions to retention, graduation rates

Innovative program increases student-counselor contact

Published: Saturday, March 30 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

To address some of the challenges faced by open-enrollment students, and ultimately lead to more students completing their degrees, Utah Valley University in Orem this year began a structured enrollment policy that set academic standards for potential applicants. Applicants age 23 and under must score at least a 19 on the ACT and have a 2.5 GPA. Students age 24 and older are expected to meet the minimum requirements on the Accuplacer entrance exam.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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OREM — In discussing the mission of Utah Valley University, President Matthew Holland often draws a metaphor to New York's Brooklyn Bridge. 

At the time of its completion in 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Holland said its design required several paradigm shifts in order to accomplish the goal of bridging the two land masses on opposite sides of the East River.

For Holland, who is a lifelong history buff as well as an educator, the comparison lies in UVU's efforts to find a balance between its dual missions of providing educational access to all members of the community while maintaining rigorous, university-level learning.

"We have to remain inclusive, we have to satisfy a large number of students, but we can’t do it at the cost of quality," Holland said.

Open-enrollment schools — in which applying students are admitted regardless of high school grade point averages and college readiness assessment scores — typically see a higher proportion of part-time students, working parents and individuals who require some degree of remediation in preparation for college-level coursework.

Those factors are deterrents to a student's education, often contributing to lower retention rates and, consequently, lower rates of graduation and degree attainment. It is a particular challenge for Weber State University, Utah Valley University and Dixie State University, which are charged with maintaining the access of a community college while providing a university education for different regions of the state.

"Individuals come to us with various levels of preparation," said Bruce Bowen, associate provost for enrollment services at Weber State University. "They’re just as capable but may not have had the opportunity. It’s a noble work and I’m excited to be apart of it."

New policies at Utah Valley University and Dixie State University will seek to maintain and strengthen that dual mission, while also taking a bite out of low retention and graduation rates.

"Our retention rate is hovering around 50 percent for our Freshman class. That's something we're trying to work on," said David Roos, director of Enrollment Services for Dixie State University. "If you can get your students past the first year, their retention rate jumps. It's a huge puzzle piece in the persistence to graduation."

Finding a solution

To address some of the challenges faced by open-enrollment students, and ultimately lead to more students completing their degrees, Utah Valley University in Orem this year began a structured enrollment policy that set academic standards for potential applicants.

Applicants age 23 and under must score at least a 19 on the ACT and have a 2.5 GPA. Students age 24 and older are expected to meet the minimum requirements on the Accuplacer entrance exam.

Those students who do not meet the standards are still accepted under the school's open enrollment policy, but are required to regularly meet with an academic counselor, attend freshman orientation and complete any necessary remediation quickly and sequentially.

School officials also moved up the deadline for applications and enrollment as well as the date that students are purged from classes for not paying tuition.

"We’re still being inclusive, but we’re asking them to be more serious," Holland said. "We’re getting out of the business of the revolving door with students who just wander in because it’s open admission, don’t really connect, don’t really know and don’t pay their tuition. That’s a waste of their time; it’s a waste of our time."

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