Kansas Board of Regents is pushing the heads of the state’s universities to increase student retention and graduation rates.
Regents President and CEO Reginald Robinson has proposed setting a goal of increasing the retention rate 10 percentage points above the national average of peer institutions over the next 10 years. The retention rate measures the percentage of freshmen who finish their first year and return the second year.
Research institutions, such as Kansas University, Kansas State University and Wichita State University, have a retention rate of 77.5 percent. The peer rate is 80 percent, so a 12.5 percent increase would be necessary to achieve the goal of 90 percent retention, Robinson said.
On graduation rates, research institutions in Kansas have a rate of 56.9 percent compared with a peer rate of 59.6 percent. KU, K-State and WSU would have to increase their rates 12.7 percent to hit the goal of 69.6 percent, Robinson said. The graduation rate measures the percentage of students who graduate within six years of starting school.
This summer, Gov. Mark Parkinson urged regents to work on increasing these rates as a way to improve the national rankings of the schools.
The university chiefs, however, have told the regents that achieving such increases, even over a long period of time, is a complex task.
“It’s not a simple issue,” said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little.
“Part of the ability to do this really will depend on some change in attitude and preparation of students who come to the university,” she said. KU has a task force analyzing this issue.
Simply put, boosting retention and graduation rates means enrolling academically higher-quality students, and that means tougher admission standards.
Making it tougher for the children of Kansas taxpayers to get into a regents university will certainly face opposition.
And the university leaders also point out that retention and graduation data are often misleading because many students, especially in the current economy, hop in and out of the higher education system at different schools.
But during a discussion last week, regents members seemed intent on putting goals in front of the schools, saying that while the data may be imperfect, it is imperfect for all schools.
The regents are expected to discuss the issue for several more months before adopting a plan.
“When we signed up for this, we didn’t want to be average,” said Regent Bill Thornton. “I think we need to improve.”