Ohio State doesn’t just excel in athletics and academics. The university also outshines most schools in the U.S. when it comes to the number of college students who return to campus for their second year.
According to enrollment services, 94.5 percent of Ohio State freshmen returned to campus in 2017, trumping the national 2016 average of an 81 percent first-year retention rate as found by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Anne McDaniel, executive director of the Center for the Study of Student Life, said that programs like the Second-Year Transformational Experience and First Year Experience are factors that impact Ohio State’s high retention rates.
McDaniel said that approximately 99 percent of STEP participants returned to campus for their third year, a slightly higher percentage than the 94.7 percent of STEP-eligible second-years who do not participate in the program.
She also noted that researchers have found that a sense of belonging on campus is a key factor in retention.
“STEP students’ sense of belonging remains consistent and high; there’s no change in their sense of belonging,” McDaniel said. “But when we look at their peers who are not in STEP, they actually experience a significant decline in their sense of belonging.”
According to McDaniel, a student’s second year in college is often a difficult period in terms of finding one’s path. She said that when STEP began, students struggled with questions involving their potential career paths and whether they belonged on the campus.
“[STEP] was developed to address some of those issues and to really support and enhance student success in that regard,” McDaniel said.
Nat Crowley, a second-year in economics and STEP participant, said being involved in the program has given him a greater sense of community and a more structured routine.
Throughout the course of STEP, students work with their peers and an adviser, where they are given up to $2,000 in funds from the university to embark upon or complete a culminating second-year project.
“There are certain resources [STEP] gives to students who do it, and through the funding, it incentivizes some kind of additional out-of-the-classroom experience for the students who complete the program that might not otherwise be possible,” Crowley said.
In addition to the STEP program, the FYE program might play a role in Ohio State’s high retention rates. The program helps new students acclimate to the university and provides them resources throughout the year, Nathan Hensley, FYE peer leader and second-year in history and philosophy, said.
Hensley said as a peer leader he is paired with about 250 first-year and transfer students and serves as both a resource and mentor to them during their first year at Ohio State. He described the position as “one of the most intimate resources” students have outside of resident advisers and counselors.
“It’s sort of a personalized resource, and I think that helps because personalization is geared towards helping them specifically with what they need, and having that resource helps change their first year,” Hensley said.
According to Hensley, the FYE program works specifically with minority populations that historically have lower retention rates than other students at Ohio State in order to increase their sense of belonging in college.
“We’re specially looking out for vulnerable populations and trying to help them have a good year and keep them here,” Hensley said. “I think that’s part of the reason why we have such high retention rates.”
The high academic quality of accepted students translates into high retention rates, Gail Stephenoff, interim associate vice president of strategic enrollment planning and director of undergraduate admissions, said. Although Ohio State significantly trumps the national average, she said she hopes the university can increase retention rates further in the future.
“We continue to attract over 50,000 applicants per year who are rich in diversity and talent,” Stephenoff said in an email. “We are very near our goal of 95 percent first-year retention and expect to reach that in the next couple of years without raising admission criteria.”