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WVU improves retention rate to go along with larger first-freshmen class

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Students move between classes on the Downtown Campus in Morgantown on the first day of class at West Virginia University August 21st, 2019. (WVUPhoto/Brian Persinger)

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Several changes in approaching freshmen retention issues, plus a multi-year emphasis on keeping students at West Virginia University have resulted in an improved retention rate this semester Provost Maryanne Reed told the Board of Governors Friday. 

“Our Preliminary numbers, what we like to call our pre-census data, show that first-time freshmen retention increased at least 3 percentage points from fall 2018,” Reed said. “We are currently at a 79.3 percent retention rate and inching toward 80 percent. 

“This is roughly equivalent to 161 additional students who have returned and paid their tuition who would not have been back with last year’s rate.”

Not only is the increased retention rate good for students by keeping them on track for an eventual degree, Reed said it resulted in approximately $2.8 million more revenue for the University.

The efforts to improve retention include: 

  • Decentralization of the First Year Seminar course, requiring colleges and schools to teach them. Students were enrolled in sections taught by faculty and professional staff employed by the college or school, getting students connected to their majors much earlier. 
  • More intensive outreach to freshmen who failed to register for classes or who indicated they planned to transfer; required mid-term grade reporting and adoption of the early alert system; began more intrusive advising; and implemented new introductory chemistry and math courses requiring additional classroom hours for students identified as needing extra help. 
  • Sharing student data reports highlighting retention issues to key players in the colleges every week in the spring and bi-weekly in the summer to keep them apprised of progress and changes.
  • Instituted a more restrictive retention policy, raising the GPA to 2.0 for students to remain enrolled. First-time freshmen students knew from the start that they would be suspended if they did not earn a 2.0. 

The president and the provost’s offices have been highlighting the importance of retention for several years, and the academic units have generally accepted the need for a more student-centered approach to curriculum, student success initiatives, and advising, she said. 

“There has been a significant culture change, and we are now seeing the benefits of those changes,” she said.

Cindi Roth, president of the West Virginia University Foundation, also reported on strong fund-raising numbers, including surpassing $135 million each of the last three years and four of the last five.

Roth also told the board that the Foundation’s goal is to eventually have $2 billion in assets and raise at least $200 million a year. Currently the Foundation has investment assets under management of $1.6 billion.

In other business, the board:

  • Renamed the Section of Digestive Diseases (Gastroenterology) within the Department of Medicine to Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
  • Established a Department of Neuroradiology within the School of Medicine.
  • Approved the sale of Fieldcrest Hall to WVU Hospitals. 

The next board meeting was scheduled for Nov. 8 in Morgantown. 



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