September 9, 2011
Over the Labor Day weekend, among the dozens of emails I received from Tulane's weather service and from senior administrators regarding university operations was one from Earl Retif, our vice president for enrollment management.
As Earl sat in his office during the rainy weekend crunching numbers, he saw something interesting. He determined that Tulane is on track to have its highest student enrollment in the school's 177-year history. He saw, too, that we would have a higher undergraduate retention rate (the number of students who return each year) than at any time in memory. I am very proud of the enrollment numbers, but his comment about retention really caught my interest.
Historically, our undergraduate retention rates, and thus our graduation rates, have been lower than we wanted for our students, given the quality of the student body. These rates have been a chronic problem for decades, but as a result of the hard work of many people the retention rates have dramatically improved since 2007 and are now at all-time highs, suggesting that graduation rates will increase, too.
Undergraduate retention and graduation rates are not just data points for people in higher education. Those of you who are familiar with U.S. News & World Report know that retention and graduation rates are two of the measures the magazine uses each year to determine its annual college rankings. These two categories account for more than a quarter of each school's score, so our performance in these areas has hurt us, especially since U.S. News began to give more weight to these variables in the last decade.
Many of you know my views on rankings -- there are too many, they are too methodologically flawed and they consider too many variables irrelevant to student learning. But I know a lot of people consult them, particularly those from U.S. News, which will publish its latest undergraduate rankings next week.
The good news for Tulane is that the numbers are moving in the right direction. Most recently the average retention rate has been 90 percent, but I know we can do even better. In fact, we've made improving our undergraduate retention and graduation rates one of our highest institutional priorities. The goal by 2014 is to have at least 95 percent of entering freshmen return for their sophomore year and have 85 percent of them graduate.
To that end we are working to provide our first- and second-year students with more opportunities to evaluate how they're coping with college. We also are enhancing the campus resources available to assist them with the transition to university life. I will keep you posted on our progress.
Have a great weekend,
Office of the President Emeritus, 1555 Poydras St, Suite 700, New Orleans, LA 70112 504-274-3638 firstname.lastname@example.org