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SDSU Freshman Retention Rate On The Rise

Aired 11/8/11 on KPBS News.

Nearly nine out of 10 San Diego State University freshmen in the 2010 class are back on campus this fall -- a record for the university.

— More than 88 percent of last year’s first-time freshman returned to San Diego State University this fall. The percentage of first-time freshman coming back for a second year has risen each of the last three years.

San Diego State University
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Above: San Diego State University

Ethan Singer, associate vice president for academic affairs, sees three major contributing factors to this year's large increase.

First, 2010 was the first year non-local freshmen were required to live in dorms, something Singer and student retention experts say increases students' academic success. Second, the university expanded programs meant to support students who are least likely to graduate. Finally, incoming students had higher SAT scores, high school grade point averages and were less likely to need remedial math or English classes than in previous years.

The three-year-old Early Start program is one of those meant to give students who have traditionally struggled to succeed in college a leg up. It started in 2009 as a program for students needing English remediation and expanded this summer to include those who needed remedial math courses.

“We’ve seen increased continuation and less academic probation and less disqualification at the end of year one,” Singer said.

Josefina Garcia gradated from Hoover High School in City Heights last spring and took an Early Start class this summer and said it eased her transition to the college workload.

“I kind of got used to studying this time for this class, so when I got started in the fall semester I already knew that I needed time to study outside of class more than inside of class,” she said.

People who enter college requiring remedial courses are among the least likely to make it to graduation.

Glen McClish has headed the Early Start program since 2009 and said the university had been looking for ways to keep these students enrolled since he arrived on campus in 1999.

"We tried a variety of interventions with them and nothing has really helped them," he said. This was seen by our administration as one more attempt to help them and seems to have.”

With ongoing state budget cuts, however, the school's freshman enrollment has declined over the last four years. As the number of students admitted dipped, the academic credentials of the incoming classes improved.

Last fall more than 88 percent of freshman arrived on campus proficient in math, compared to about 74 percent in 2007. Eighty-four percent were proficient in English compared to about 69 percent three years earlier.

They also had higher SAT scores and high school grade point averages. All indicators that last year's freshmen may have been more prepared to succeed at college than their predecessors.

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