Southeast Missouri State University student publication

Southeast reaches retention rate goal, declines in enrollment

Thursday, October 1, 2020

This year, a higher number of first-year Redhawks returned to campus as Southeast met their retention rate goal, while overall enrollment numbers declined by 6%.

In 2016, the university established an 80% retention rate goal for second-year, full-time students, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success Deborah Below said.

In Fall 2020, 80% of first-year, full-time students returned for a second year, according to this semester’s census enrollment presented to the Board of Regents in September. This compares to a 75% retention rate recorded last fall.

International student enrollment dipped 24% this year due to COVID-19-related travel concerns, Below said, and overall headcount dropped by some 600 students compared to last year. Dual credit student numbers also dropped by 14%, which Below attributes to competition among dual credit programs, class size and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. According to the census report, the only group that increased were online-only and other online classes moved online due to COVID, which were both up by 8%.

Below said several demographic groups of beginning freshmen rose in numbers this year, as well. University President Carlos Vargas announced in a press conference last week that freshman African American student enrollment increased by 26%, while Hispanic student enrollment rose by 67%.

Overall enrollment dropped slightly in other demographics. According to the Fall 2020 census, minority student enrollment dropped by 1%.

Below attributes the high freshman retention rates with a coordinated effort by the university to provide support services to new students. In addition, she said university involvement programs — such as Residence Life and Greek Life activities — help to better integrate students into the Southeast community.

As COVID-19 has shifted university operations across the country, she said Southeast’s response to the pandemic factors into the high retention rates. Following a positive experience with the university’s response in the spring semester, Below said second-year students might feel safer returning to campus.

Overall, she said reaching the retention rate goal set by Vargas was attained through a campus-wide effort.

“Our students, faculty and staff embraced the goal of retaining 80%, and we did just that,” Below said. “It demonstrates the power of a collective effort.”

A full list of recent years’ enrollment reports can be found at