Low retention rate leads to study
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
Twenty-year-old Martin Sandoval spends his days working as a sous-chef at El Cometa Restaurant, although he wishes he could be attending college.
Sandoval was studying music and education before he dropped out of school last year because of his family’s financial struggles.
“I dropped out simply because of the turning economy,” Sandoval said. “As the child of a single parent, I had to help my mom out with expenses and such. It was all just a series of unfortunate events that took place that had me take on this new responsibility.”
Sandoval is one of the 27 percent of freshman students at UTEP that do no continue their education after their first year.
In the past five years, only 73 percent of freshmen at UTEP continue their education after their first year, while 62 percent of sophomores continued on to their junior year. According to Josefina Tinajero, dean of the College of Education, these low retention rates spurred the dean, faculty and students from the College of Education to initiate a two-year project that will look at the factors that cause freshmen and sophomores to leave UTEP.
“I was really shocked to see the retention or attrition rates of freshmen and sophomore students,” Tinajero said.
During their research, several key factors were identified that have impeded first-time, full-time freshmen and sophomore students. These factors included low grades, low rankings in high school and the fact that many of the students were also full-time workers. Another factor involved problems with transportation.
“I think students drop out for many reasons, obviously,” Sandoval said. “Whether it be financial issues, family issues or maybe a simple not knowing what they want.”
Using data from 2006-2011, Tinajero and her team applied for and received a grant to initiate Project SUCCESS (Striving for Undergraduate Coordinated and Comprehensive Enhanced Student Support). The project received $182,000 from the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Public Grant Program.
The COE team also found that the retention figures for the college were even lower than those for UTEP. The numbers showed that approximately 69 percent of freshmen, who declared education as their principle major, continued on to their sophomore year and only 57 percent of sophomores returned for their junior year.
Within the COE, the team identified the fact that while many of the students interacted with faculty during new student orientations, those students had no further interaction until their junior year. Education students are routinely advised by counselors at the Academic Advising Center and do not get advised by COE faculty until their junior year.
Through the grant, the team is looking at methods to support freshmen and sophomores and to establish ways for COE to intervene in the lives of the students in a more positive and direct manner.
“We felt that our college and our staff and our faculty needed to be engaged in the lives of students that were at the freshmen and sophomore levels,” Tinajero said.
The COE is striving to provide freshmen and sophomores with a more fulfilling experience during their first two years of college. The team is following up with students who participated in the new student orientation this summer and, with new intervention strategies in place, the COE is also reaching out to sophomores and seeking to help more students to stay in college.
The team plans to use mentoring workshops in order to support and help students as well as to acquire research data. The workshops are designed to teach students stress and time management skills as well as study skills.
Doctoral and master’s students, whose research is centered on student success and retention of students, are collecting data about the strategies used as well as getting feedback from students who have dropped out of college.
“We had already been working here under another project for about a year, so Dr. (Judith) Munter (associate dean of the College of Education) asked us if we’d like to be a part of the project. So we started working on the IRB Proposal this summer to see what we were going to do with this,” said Diana Mendez, education graduate student.
Tinajero also said the project will feature graduate student mentors, who will guide and advise COE underclassmen. The major difficulty they have faced thus far is recruiting students and getting the word out. They have been sending emails and calling students to inform them about the support system that is being developed.
The COE is working with other departments at the university such as the UTEP Writing Center and the Women’s Resource Center to help provide support for these students.
“Unfortunately, a lot of students don’t know about the resources we have here at UTEP and we have a lot,” Mendez said. “We want to increase our retention rates. Unfortunately some students don’t feel the support that they should feel and so they tend to drop out. So we want to provide them with support.”