CEDAR CITY (ABC4 News) – This fall, Southern Utah University saw 74% of its first-year full-time students return for a second year — a record for the institution, according to the university.
“I think I stayed because of the people,” SUU sophomore Noa Taeatafa said. “I absolutely love the people that I’ve met here, and I call them family.”
ABC4 News’ Katie Karalis sat down with Jared Tippets, Southern Utah’s vice president for student affairs, who said student retention is a common issue all universities share.
Tippets said university data shows students who return for their second year are much more likely to graduate, and retention rates have increased by more than 15% in the past four years– an effort that university leaders said takes the work of the entire community.
“It means that more of our students are achieving their goals and dreams and they’re prepared for great jobs and great lives,” he said.
SUU has emphasized one-on-one peer mentoring programs along with academic advisors called “student success coaches” to help its more than 11,000 students, according to the administration.
Student affairs leaders said one of the biggest challenges with retention stem from financial concerns, although the school ranks one of the highest in the country for students with the least amount of debt.
Tippets said among the other major retention factors students face include concerns with mental health, general life challenges such as homesickness and obligations to children and family, and a lack of connection to the campus and its students.
In the last four years, SUU administrators said they’ve hired a financial literacy coach and a half dozen full-time counselors and launched many group therapy sessions, adding that the goal is to ensure students feel an authentic connection to the community.