Jan 312011
Authors: Erin Udell

Breaking a new national trend, CSU’s freshman retention rates have increased in recent years, university officials said.

According to new data from ACT, Inc., U.S. retention rates at public two-year colleges have risen significantly to 55.7 percent, hitting a 27-year high point for student retention. At the same time, rates at four-year private colleges have dipped to their lowest levels in the history of the survey at 68.7 percent.

In addition, four-year public college retention has remained at 67.6 percent for the past two years, hovering between their survey high of 70 percent in 2004 and a low of 66.4 percent in 2005.

But CSU Executive Director of Admissions Jim Rawlins said CSU is bucking that trend and retention rates have actually gone up between 2009 and 2010.

“They (CSU’s retention rates and the survey results) are nowhere near each other overall, and public four-years like CSU are not part of the decline,” Rawlins said in an e-mail to the Collegian. “In fact, our freshman retention rate for the incoming freshmen of 2010 versus 2009 improved by over two points.”

As part of its annual survey, ACT has gathered retention rates at more than 2,500 for two- and four-year colleges across the country since 1983, documenting the percentages of first-year students who return for their second year of schooling.

And while four-year colleges still have significantly higher retention rates, two-year colleges have been steadily closing in on that gap — mainly due to the struggling economy.

For many students like Emily Brandt, a Fort Collins resident and student at Front Range Community College, 2-year college is a more affordable option, as opposed to public and private four-year universities.

“I just think it’s a lot smarter because I’m basically doing the same thing here that I’d be doing at CSU,” Brandt said. “I’m just saving a lot of money here because the classes are cheaper, and I don’t have to pay for living or eating expenses (by living at home).”

While Brandt’s future plan is to transfer to CSU and receive her bachelor’s degree, some students who attend two-year colleges aim to try out the job market a little sooner.

“I just think there will be more jobs two years down the road instead of four,” said Matthew Christ, 25, a Fort Collins resident studying clean energy technology at FRCC.

“I think of it (FRCC) as more of a trade school because it’s more of a quick process,” Christ said. “And I’m paying out of pocket, so there’s no way I could have done that at CSU.”

But for Christ, and many students at FRCC, moving on to a four-year college is a welcomed option.

“It’s terrific,” Rawlins said of the increase in retention at 2-year public colleges. “If anything, I see that increase as a good sign that students are doing well at community colleges and possibly wanting to transfer to schools like CSU.”

Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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