North Central Self Study
Chapter 2: UNK and the North Central Association
1994 NCA Team Report
2. Institutional Concerns
The institution needs to build a strong retention database and establish ongoing programs that facilitate campus-wide ownership in retention activities. (p.23)
Coordinated leadership among Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and the faculty has produced sustained focus and significant progress in this area. The most important data concerning retention - i.e., those demonstrating outcomes -- show that UNK's performance is at all-time highs by widely recognized standards (See Tables 2.2 and 2.3 below.)
Persistence rates: percentage of first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshman returning for sophomore year*:
|Persistence Rates, 1993-2003|
Six-year graduation rates percentage of undergraduates who receive baccalaureate degree (cohort each year includes first-time, full-time degree-seeking freshmen):
|Graduation Rates, 1987-1998|
A number of factors account for this progress, including:
- Student Quality: UNK has admitted better-prepared students since University-wide admission standards were raised in 1997. Standards prior to 1997 included a 10-unit high school core curriculum plus either a composite ACT score of 20 or graduation in the top half of the class. In the Fall of 1997, a 16-unit core was required, plus either a 20+ ACT composite score or top-half ranking. In addition, UNK has applied admit-by-review regulations very carefully, to admit only students who have realistic prospects of succeeding.
- Quality of teaching: UNK's faculty continue to excel at this mission-central activity. Personalized attention to students, on a continuing basis, greatly enhances the prospects for student success in the classroom.
- Quality of academic support services: Advising services, both for deciding students and those who have chosen a major, are regarded as key functions and receive systematic emphasis at UNK. Free tutoring services, moreover, assist many students.
- Quality of campus/community life: Qualitative improvements on campus and in the surrounding community have made UNK a satisfying place to live and study.
Since 1997 UNK (the Office of the Registrar) has assembled detailed data concerning the persistence of major ethnic categories within the student body. These reports are available in the Resource Room. Although the numbers of students in these groups are relatively small, and wide variations are possible from year to year, generally the data indicate that white students tend to persist at higher rates than minority students. This is consistent with results at other University of Nebraska campuses. In light of this data, UNK has taken a number of steps to make the campus more hospitable for minority students, including establishment of a multicultural affairs office within Student Affairs to lead pertinent programming, and concerted efforts to hire minority faculty and staff (including Admissions Counselors).
Several major initiatives demonstrate campus-wide investment in maintaining UNK's student success rates, as measured by retention and graduation statistics. For each, administrators and faculty collaborated extensively on programs designed to help students make a successful transition from high school to the first year of college.
- Starting in 1997 UNK considered establishing residential colleges or learning communities to help integrate freshman students' academic and non-academic experiences and to assist them in adjusting to university life. In 1999-2000 planners developed broad interest in a learning community concept centered first on business and education students, and plans were made to deploy that approach on a pilot basis starting in the Fall, 2001. The pilot program proved successful, with retention rates averaging 88% for the first two years; in light of that result, two additional communities are now operating for students who are interested in leadership and healthy lifestyles. Plans for other learning communities are in various stages of development and some may exist without the residential component. It is anticipated that several additional opportunities will be in place by Fall, 2004.
In connection with the learning community initiative, review of first-year experience programs at other institutions indicated that the best include a common classroom experience for students, introducing them systematically to academic expectations and opportunities. Over an extended period a Faculty Senate committee examined a variety of first-year course options and developed common objectives for such courses at UNK. The initial classes were offered on a pilot basis to students in the Fall of 2001. Assessment of that program has been encouraging (the report is available in the Resource Room), and expansion is ongoing.
More generally, in recent years UNK has adjusted its approach to freshman orientation, incorporating both academic and non-academic information in contacts with incoming classes beginning in the early summer. Early enrollment sessions, held in June and July of each year, now feature faculty presentations on academic values and expectations. At the beginning of each school year, "Blue and Gold Weekend" opening events include informal meetings with faculty, academic advisors, staff, and college administrators.
Moreover, between 2000 and 2001 Chancellor Gladys Johnston reorganized the Student Affairs Division to focus managerial attention on student retention capabilities, transferring student recruitment oversight to the Chancellor's Office and the Office of Registration and Records to Academic Affairs. In 2001 she also formed a campus-wide committee led by the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs to review UNK's retention situation and make associated recommendations. Initiatives generated by that study include strategies to gather and assess student attitudes and to monitor retention activities and progress.
* Within the University of Nebraska, beginning with data for the Fall of 2000, transfers from one campus to another do not count as "losses" for purposes of calculating persistence and graduation rates. Campuses track students who transfer to a sister campus, and their persistence and graduation result at other campuses is attribute4d to the original institution.