In recent years, USF’s Center for Institutional Planning and Effectiveness has reported improved freshman retention rates. ASUSF senators and students of the current freshman class feel that the freshman retention is alarmingly low, however, and must be discussed in order be improved upon.
Freshman retention rates, a measure of the percentage of freshman remaining enrolled at a university after their first year, are on the rise according to USF administration. Degree-seeking, full-time, first-time freshmen returned for their second year at USF in 2012 at a rate of 87 percent. This improved significantly from the 82 percent of 2006. During a Fall 2014 presentation to Senate, the University reported that the retention rate was hovering at approximately 89 percent, and hopes to continue the positive trend.
According to American College Testing’s 2014 analysis of first-year to second-year retention rates, the national average for PhD granting private universities was 80.9 percent.
While USF’s freshman retention rate is significantly above the national average, members of Senate and some students feel that the freshman class is unhappy. There have already been conversations dedicated to the freshman retention problem in three of the four Senate meetings this semester.
In an effort to remedy the issue, Freshman Class Representatives Giorgia Scelzo and Elonte Porter have held a series of polls aimed at the freshman class to gauge sources of discontent on campus. “Elonte and I spoke to at least 100 freshmen this year to understand what their perspective of USF was,” and at least one in three of those surveyed wanted to transfer or has already transferred, Scelzo said.
Sclezo and Porter will continue to explore the matter by hosting a forum on April 28 for freshmen to voice their complaints and make additional suggestions. There will also be suggestion boxes placed around campus in the cafeteria and under the doors of each freshman dorm in the coming weeks for freshmen to leave proposals on remedying the issue.
Taking these recommendations into consideration, Scelzo and Porter will work alongside the rest of Senate to make immediate changes so that the freshman class will feel more inclined to stay through their sophomore year. “After this forum, we’ll have the last two months, and hopefully we’ll make changes and people will enjoy USF more. That way, when they come back, they’ll think ‘Oh okay, well I enjoyed the last two months, so maybe it’ll be better,’” she says.
Though the 89 percent retention rate for this year’s second-year students was high, the rate for next year’s returning sophomores might still drop. Freshman Soleil Borda implied that the massive growth in class size could negatively affect next year’s official retention rates: “They took so many more people than they had room for, which created a lot of housing discomfort.”
Scelzo believes that the potential low rates could be caused by a lack of school spirit and a prominence of cliques. “There’s a lot of cliques in our school, and students are noticing that the friends that you make the first two weeks of school, you’re most likely going to stick with them the rest of the four years,” she said.
Borda also suspects that USF’s fragmented social life is a possible source of the problem. “Honestly, it really was because I didn’t have any friends. If you’re not in a sorority or a frat, and you don’t meet someone on the first day, it’s really, really hard to try to find people to hang out with. Delta Zeta is literally the only reason I made so many friends, and I wouldn’t want to leave people that I’ve met, and then have to redo the whole process of making friends again,” she said.
Scelzo claims that another potential cause of the low retention rate is the requirement to lie on campus. “I also know that freshmen transfer the first semester to go to community college. They got accepted here, and then they went into community college. With all this money that they’re paying, freshmen thought that they could live better at home and go to community college,” she said. She explains that many freshmen consider dorm life on USF’s campus to be of a lesser quality than dorms at schools with lower tuition and lower on-campus housing costs.
Pearson Kunz, a freshman film student, agrees that the cost of USF is far too much for his desired degree, and has already made plans to transfer. “The cost is too much for the degree that I wanted, and down the line I didn’t want to pay that back for that kind of degree. The specifics of my major were also not what I was looking for. Opportunities in the city were not what I wanted, but there are so many for other people. Film and television being produced here is just not as abundant.”
Ultimately, though USF’s freshman retention rate has been on the rise in past years, and is significantly above average, the university remains concerned that the number for this year’s freshman class could decline.