University statistics show lowering retention rates as the number of students returning to UNC Asheville after their freshman year decreases.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid defines a retention rate as the amount of first-time, freshman undergraduate students who continue their education at the same institution the following year.
According to university numbers, 73 percent of full-time freshmen entering in the fall of the 2018-19 year returned for a second year of study at UNC Asheville. These numbers have consistently declined in recent years. In 2009, the freshman retention rate was 81.5 percent.
“UNC Asheville has aggressively sought to manage the retention of first-year students,” said UNCA Director of Institutional Planning Deaver Traywick. “Some of those efforts include redesigning first-year experience courses to focus more intentionally on transition-to-college issues, implementing an academic indicator system to give students feedback on their performance earlier in the semester, reaching out personally to students who do not register for classes on time or who consider transferring and administering an exit feedback survey to students who indicate they are leaving.”
The overall retention rate for four-year degree-granting institutions in fall 2017 was 81 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Comparatively, the 2017 retention rate at UNCA was 75 percent. The study found retention rates are higher at more exclusive institutions with lower acceptance rates, while those with open admission have far lower retention rates.
“First year students do not return for a second year for many reasons: some are in good academic standing and elect to take time away from college, some decide to transfer to another institution and others have not been academically successful enough during their first year to continue,” Traywick said.
Dane Kottiel, an engineering student, plans on transferring to UNC Charlotte after spending his first year at UNCA.
“I am leaving because I feel that I will be more productive and better fit in Charlotte, which is a larger and more populated city area,” Kottiel said.
Recalling his favorite part of being at UNCA was difficult for Kottiel, however, he eventually expressed his appreciation for the beautiful mountains. The 19-year-old’s criticisms of the university came much easier.
“A lot of the teachers did not give a shit,” he said. “The students, like 80 percent of them are really weird. It was too small and it was in such a secluded area.”
UNC Asheville offers many engineering courses through a four-year joint program with North Carolina State University. Students have the opportunity to join the Joint Engineering Mechatronics, or JEM, program.
“I liked JEM, which was a hands-on robotics class, that was pretty cool. But the rest were boring as hell,” Kottiel said.
Freshman Morgan Runyan plans on taking a gap year after struggling to balance academics and mental health. She found that the hardest part of being at UNCA was being a student.
“The work. That sounds so funny because it’s college and you know there’s going to be a lot of work, but I just got to a point where that was too much. Just going to class every day was overwhelming,” Runyan said.
Runyan says she places no fault in the university for her academic difficulty, rather herself.
“Honestly, it was all on my part,” she said. “All of my professors were amazing, they worked with me so I could get my work turned in and with the Health and Counseling Center. They provided all the resources I just didn’t always put in effort to use them.”
The health and wellness major made the decision to leave school to take time for her mental health and save some money.
“I really liked UNCA overall but I just feel like this last semester my mental health took a big turn for the worse,” she said. “I just have some things to figure out and I don’t want to waste a bunch of money at school when I’m not sure what my future holds or what I’m doing. I don’t even know if what I want to do requires a full-on college education. I’ve got some soul searching to do.”
Runyan plans on working through the summer and will eventually spend time in Oregon at her aunt’s yoga studio.
According to Traywick, advising students to remain at UNCA solely depends on the circumstances. For example, if a student is struggling academically, finding an institution better fit for a student’s academic preparedness may be helpful. Extenuating circumstances that require a student to refocus their priorities, such as family or work, is also a valid reason for leaving. However, Traywick asks students to reconsider for other reasons.
“If financial concerns are a motivating factor, I would remind the student that a four-year degree from UNC Asheville is one of the most affordable in the country, and the long-term increase in earnings from a four-year degree outweighs the costs,” Traywick said. “And if a student thinks they want a different degree than UNC Asheville offers, I would encourage that student to work closely with faculty in an academic department to tailor a program to their interests through undergraduate research, internships and other individualized learning experiences. Shopping around for a different degree program can be tempting, but a liberal arts or science program that flexes to fit personal needs may be much more rewarding.”