UNO graduation and retention rates on the rise

Photo by Charlotte Reilly

Grant Sobetski

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s retention and graduation rates have been steadily rising over the years due to improved investment in student services and programs.

In the 1998 cohort, the retention rate of UNO was at 66 percent, according to the UNO Factbook.

That number rose to 77.9 percent in the 2016 cohort.

“We have been working to improve our retention and completion rates for all students since I arrived five years ago,” said Daniel Shipp, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. “And in many cases, we have been very successful in pushing ahead of our peer institutions when it comes to our students’ retention and completion outcomes.”

UNO’s graduation rate of students with a baccalaureate degree within six years or less sits at 47 percent, above the 43 percent average of similar institutions in peer groups identified by the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities, a third-party organization of which UNO is a member.

“This has really been a dramatic shift in the student success performance at this institution,” said Shipp.

Shipp cited increases in investment in student services and programs such as learning communities, continued academic advising enhancements, predictive analytics through the Student Wellness Center and Care Team, the PACE retention analysis system and transfer student peer mentors.

Learning programs and activities at UNO have strong affect on the retention rates with Project Achieve having a retention rate of 87.8 percent of its students, the Thompson Learning Community at 89 percent, the Honors Program at 89.3 percent and the Goodrich Scholarship Program at 94.6 percent.

Additionally, Shipp credited the improvements to a “cultural shift” being introduced at UNO.

“Our approach to improving student success at UNO involves more than just adding new support programs and/or services … rather, it has more appropriately involved a culture shift that values the success of each student regardless of their individual identities, backgrounds or unique opportunities and/or challenges,” said Shipp.

“UNO faculty, staff, and administrative leaders view student success (ultimately graduation) as central to our metropolitan mission.”

Both Shipp and Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, Ph.D. said that while the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s and University of Nebraska-Kearney’s graduation rates within six years or less are 67 percent and 56 percent, respectively, the disparity between them and UNO’s rates are due to differences in demographics.

“So many of their student’s live on campus,” said Shipp. “We have 2,500 students, roughly, that live on campus. That’s just a small slice of our student population … Our peer groups are much different than a residential, regional institution.”

Gold said that there is a difference between those students who enroll with plans of getting a degree and those who do not. The University of Nebraska at Omaha accepts students who do not plan on graduating with a degree but, instead, to acquire a specific set of skills that can be found in just a few classes.

However, the graduation rates published by the U.S. Department of Education consider all first-year students, regardless of their plans for a degree.

Beyond the rising rates in graduation, Shipp and Gold are proud of the diversity they see within the student body at UNO.

“We have one-third of our students who have come in that identify as ethnically or culturally diverse. We have almost 45 percent of the students who come in identify as first-generation students,” said Shipp.

Despite the rising diversity numbers, graduation rates of African- Americans remain significantly below the average of other students, with only 28 percent of African-American students in the 2008 cohort graduating in six years or less with a baccalaureate degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“You will find that UNO African- American students are achieving at similar rates compared to our peer colleges/universities,” said Shipp. “That said, there is still much work to do in helping African- American students close the equity outcome gap.”

Shipp said that student clubs, cultural programs and multicultural Greek organizations offered at UNO are beneficial for all students, including African-Americans. Additionally, he noted UNO’s Black Student Union, a group created by students last year.

Undocumented immigrants graduate at a much higher rate than the average student pool at UNO, with 60 percent of the 2008 cohort graduating within six years or less with a baccalaureate degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Most of these students are recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, a controversial Obama-era executive action that protects young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The Trump administration announced on Sept. 5, 2017 that they will sunset the program on March 5, 2018.