Colleges Get Failing Grades on Student Retention

Dropout rates have colleges scrambling for solutions.

ByABC News
December 1, 2010, 4:54 PM

Dec. 4, 2010— -- When Amanda Wieder enrolled at the University of Florida in summer 2009, she worried not only about the transition to college life but also about how she'd pay for her education. Her mother, a single parent, supported both Amanda and her twin sister.

Her cause for worry was not unjustified. As a first-generation college student, statistics say Amanda is less likely to graduate than her peers.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, while 49% of students whose parents are college graduates will themselves graduate within six years, that number drops to 15% for first-generation students.

And they're not the only group at risk.

A new report says that over the previous five years, taxpayers have spent $9 billion on students who will drop out before their sophomore year.

Faced with these numbers, universities are stepping in to keep students enrolled and on the path to graduation.

The summer she entered UF, Wieder received a letter asking her to join UF's Florida Opportunity Scholars program.

The program, with 1,400 students, gives select first-generation, low-income UF students scholarships for tuition and a support system.

"They follow you through your four years here and just generally make sure you're doing well," Wieder said. "It's really an amazing program."

Its administrators may well feel the same about the scholars.

"The students are very motivated to succeed," director Leslie Pendleton told ABC News. "So we are happy to offer them any resources we can to help make that happen." Those resources include seminars onfinancial budgeting and career planning, and pairing with a peer mentor to "help them get oriented to the campus."

Students in the program have a 96 percent freshmen retention rate (UF's overall is 95 percent), and graduation rates are similar to those of UF as a whole.

"Research would tell you that the kids in this program wouldn't graduate as frequently as other students," she said. "But we've proven that if you give a student who wants to succeed the means to do it, they can be very successful, no matter their background."