Recruit & Retain (Concordia University Texas)

Raising Freshman Retention Rates

Concordia University Texas (CTX) is an award-winning, liberal arts university that is privately held, and is under the auspices of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The university recently announced its highest-ever freshman retention rate at 75 percent, surpassing the national average for private schools at 65 percent. The university has high goals in terms of enrollment and retention, and these significant increases in both areas are right on track.

CTX attributes several factors to this milestone achievement, including revising the financial aid strategy, investing in a writing center and implementing Student Central: a front-line office that helps students with financial aid, accounting and registration services.

We believe that every student who spends any time at CTX is influenced by our mission and leaves here changed, but students who are with us for four years have an even greater opportunity to experience the adventure of faith, learning and life-changing experiences that prepare them to live lives of service to their communities.

Financial Aid Strategy

The university reviewed several factors before making a decision on how to revise financial aid packages. In 2013-2014, after looking at students based on need and academic status, CTX reduced the renewal grade-point average (GPA) and minimum hours needed to retain merit scholarships, allowing for more students to keep their merit scholarships throughout their college careers. In 2014-2015, CTX gave approximately $8 million in need-based institutional aid. Recent data shows low-income students, the group statistically shown to be most susceptible to dropping out due to costs, are showing improvements in retention.

CTX also changed its financial aid packaging strategy. Until 2013, CTX packaged financial aid for students one time, at the beginning of their college careers. Now, financial aid packages for students are put together every academic year. This change adjusted the aid package to better meet the current financial needs of students.

The biggest impact to the financial aid strategy was the addition of the Kilian Award, an award that specifically targets students receiving little to no need-based financial aid and little to no merit aid. The university previously struggled to recruit and retain this student group, and by targeting them through financial aid recruitment, CTX has increased enrollment and retention rates.

Focus on English Courses and Writing Center

The ability to communicate well (both orally and in writing) is one of the essential skills that we believe is important to both a solid liberal arts education and to career preparation. Students who have the opportunity to intentionally develop this skill set are more likely to be successful in their college learning experience and in their future careers. We are a liberal arts institution, and each course requires a significant amount of reading and writing. We recognized this and invested in resources to put in place a writing center.

The writing center plays an integral part in students’ success in the transition to university-level writing skills. All students now have the opportunity to use the writing center for assistance with any class. This development has enabled students who did not previously have a strong academic profile to become more successful. CTX data illuminates a correlation between students in developmental English courses who received assistance at the writing center and higher passing rates. This concentrated focus has led to greater success for students in English classes.

Student Central

CTX developed Student Central several years ago with the intent of creating a one-stop shop for all student-service needs. Student Central streamlines the process of academic and financial advising services, giving students more direct access to resources in these areas.

Over the last year, services and staff have nearly doubled to provide everything from guidance in financial aid to accounting and registration services. Student Central provides a holistic approach to solving students’ problems. If a student is considering dropping a course mid-semester, they will likely face negative academic and financial repercussions. Student Central provides a proactive student service approach. Student support coordinators are assigned students, much like admissions counselors, and they reach out to their students before financial or academic trouble arises. Student Central also holds workshops and seminars to help students create class schedules, learn how to use automated degree auditing software, and to determine how to pay their tuition statements. CTX’s Student Central is a customer service management center in higher education.

CTX leadership continues to access retention strategies and enrollment modeling. Key decisions that the university has made over the past few years have led to this big accomplishment.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Kristi Kirk, Ph.D., is the executive vice president and chief mission officer at Concordia University Texas.

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