Thursday, June 26, 2014
One of the most important areas of discussion for colleges and universities is retention rates, primarily calculated by the average amount of freshman students that return to the same university for their sophomore year. UT Tyler's retention rate is roughly 64 percent, roughly 13 percent below the national average, and 11 percent below the state average. the average retention rate in the United States. Reasons for this trend among students include academic difficulty, family problems, and loneliness, but the most cited reason is money-related issues. Specifically, one reason for these issues lie with student's lack of reapplication for financial aid and scholarships through the government and their university. A study finds that more than 18 percent of students that receive a Pell Grant in their freshman year (a group that earned an average 3.0 GPA in their freshman year) fail to reapply for the grant in their sophomore year. As a result, half of those students did not return to their university in their sophomore year. A question arises from this startling statistic: Would encouraging students to reapply for financial aid increase their academic persistence, and in turn, a university's overall retention rate?
To tackle this problem, Ben Castleman and Lindsey C. Page, assistant professors of education that penned the previously mentioned study entitled "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Investigating Rates and Patterns of Financial Aid Renewal Among College Freshmen", designed and implemented a system of text-message reminders for students with the intention of reminding them to reapply for financial aid at the end of their second semester during their freshman year. These texts gave reminders about refiling their FAFSA applications, as well as maintaining satisfactory academic achievement in order to continue receiving financial aid and scholarships during their academic careers. The results, according to the study, show that the majority of improvement lied within community college student populations, whose retention rate was at 76 percent, 12 percent higher than students within the control group that did not receive the text messages. However, this study shows no significant changes for students attending four-year universities. Explanations for this lack of improvement from the author's include the already existing "passive" reminders that universities use, such as putting up flyers that remind students to refile their FAFSA application, along with the lack of a broad search during the experiment--researchers used colleges and universities in Massachusetts for their study, a state that has higher average retention and graduation rates than the majority of other states.
Knowing that these methods have potential among students at both four-year universities and community colleges, it is worth considering the growth potential for cell phone connectivity at UT Tyler. As of now the university uses text reminders and alert systems for their students for various purposes, but the utility of academic and financial aid reminders could boost retention rates, average GPA values across different classes and schools, along with a litany of other benefits. The use of text messaging is at an immense high among college students nationwide, so the potential for improvement of its use can massively increase for our university.