Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia has set a record in a key measure of student success: Its freshman retention rate increased by a full percentage point from 2014 to 2015 to reach 95.2 percent.
The freshman retention rate measures the percentage of a school’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. The national average for public, four-year institutions is 80 percent, and UGA’s 95 percent retention rate places it among the nation’s top universities in this measure.
“We continue to invest in faculty, staff and innovative programs to ensure that students at Georgia’s flagship university have an unparalleled learning experience,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Our high retention rate is one sign that these investments are having a positive impact on student success.”
In addition to reaching a new height in freshman retention, UGA also saw its six-year graduation rate increase to 85.3 percent, another record that is well above the national average of 59 percent for four-year institutions. UGA’s four- and five-year graduation rates are 62.5 percent and 82.4 percent, respectively, which compare to national averages of 39.4 percent and 55.1 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten noted that earlier this year UGA launched an initiative to reduce class sizes by hiring 56 additional faculty members and creating more than 300 new course sections. In 2014, the university hired 10 new faculty members to teach in high-demand course sections.
In addition to reducing class sizes, UGA has enhanced advising services through a combination of additional staff and new technology. The university hired 25 new academic advisers in the summer of 2014 and increased advising services to incoming first-year students and transfer students. UGA also has enhanced students’ and advisers’ ability to track progress toward graduation with DegreeWorks, a Web-based academic advising tool. In addition, the university has increased summer enrollment on campus while also expanding summer online course offerings to give students more flexibility.
UGA has several longstanding programs that support retention and graduation, as well. Since 2011, the First-Year Odyssey Seminar Program has placed all first-year students in small classes, with an average of 15 students, that are led by tenured or tenure-track professors and designed to introduce students to academic life at UGA. Students who are struggling academically are enrolled in the Collaborative Academic and Retention Effort program, which is designed to address the individual needs of students placed on academic probation.
UGA has launched new scholarship programs, and $3.5 million in need-based scholarship funds has been awarded in the past year alone—a figure that is up 15 percent from just two years ago. UGA also offers a flat tuition rate that serves as an incentive for students to take a full course load each semester.
In fall 2016, UGA will become the largest public university in the nation to require that each of its students engage in hands-on learning—through internships, study abroad, service-learning, research and other forms of experiential learning—prior to graduation. Morehead noted that in addition to helping prepare students for careers or graduate school, experiential learning has been shown to enhance student learning and promote on-time graduation.
“Our graduation and retention rates are very strong, but we’re striving for greater success for our students in this important area,” Morehead said. “In addition to changing the lives of individuals, each additional UGA degree represents a significant contribution to the economic vitality of our state and nation.”