seal  Purdue News

September 19, 2003

Retention programs help students stay in school, earn degrees

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Student retention programs at Purdue University are paying dividends with more freshmen coming back for their second year of college and the promise of more students earning their degrees in the years ahead.

Douglas L. Christiansen, assistant vice president for enrollment management and dean of admissions, told the Board of Trustees today (Friday, 9/19) that the freshman to sophomore retention rate is 88.6 percent. This is a 0.6 percentage point increase over last year and a 2.4 percentage point increase from 1996.

The four-year graduation rate increased by 1.2 percentage points – 33.2 percent to 34.4 percent – over the past year, Christiansen said. This represents a 3.61 percent increase in the number of students graduating in four years. The six-year graduation rate increased by 1 percentage point – 67.6 percent to 68.6 percent – over last year. This represents a 1.48 percent increase in the number of students graduating in six years.

"One of the university's strategic goals is to help students have successful academic careers and earn Purdue degrees," Christiansen said. "Every percentage point increase in the first- to second-year retention rate results in 60 to 70 additional students continuing their education."

The increases can be attributed in part to programs across campus designed to help students become more socially and academically adept early in their college careers, Christiansen said.

Two particular campuswide programs, Boiler Gold Rush and Learning Communities, target new students. Boiler Gold Rush, a first-year student orientation program, helps students become familiar with the campus and each other during the week before classes start. Learning Communities are groups of first-year students with common academic interests who are co-enrolled in several of the same courses, with some groups sharing living space in University Residences.

Purdue has focused retention activities on first-year students because nationally more students drop out of college between their freshman and sophomore years than any other time, said Andrew Koch, director of learning communities and retention projects.

"We focus on programs that increase student learning and satisfaction that, in turn, affect retention rates," Koch said. "We provide new students with opportunities to feel more comfortable on campus and interact with their peers socially and academically."

The Boiler Gold Rush orientation program had 1,600 of the about 6,000 first-time students involved in 1997, the first year the program was coordinated by the Office of Admissions. Participation has grown steadily to the 4,100 freshmen who took part in the program this August.

The weeklong event helps first-time students become familiar with the campus and Purdue traditions before classes begin, said Patti Dulik, associate director of orientation and new student programs.

"The biggest benefit of BGR is that students are able to meet many different people and form friendships with other new students who are experiencing the same things as them," Dulik said. "BGR takes Purdue's large campus and makes it seem very small for our new students."

Learning Communities allow first-year students to continue to be part of a small community well into their first year of study. Like Boiler Gold Rush, Learning Communities help students develop relationships and adjust to campus life, with a particular emphasis on relationships with faculty. Through their involvement with Learning Communities, students become active members of the university's academic life.

The first four Learning Communities were established in 1999 with 247 students. This fall, almost 1,100 students are participating in 25 groups. Purdue offers several school-specific learning communities and also sponsors interdisciplinary options that focus on themes like healthy lifestyles, leadership and service-learning or other cultures.

Learning community participants return to Purdue at rates that are 4 percentage points higher than non-participants, Koch said. The differences for ethnic and female participants are even greater.

"Simply said, these learning communities work," Koch said. "Research results at Purdue and from programs across the country show that students who take part in a learning community earn higher grades, make friends faster and are retained at higher rates than students who don't participate in a learning community."

Writer: J. Michael Willis, (765) 494-0371;

Sources: Douglas L. Christiansen, (765) 494-7014;

Andrew Koch, (765) 496-3618;

Patti Dulik (765) 496-6460;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
Purdue Retention Initiatives

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