Topics: Administrative, College of Applied Sciences and Technology, College of Architecture and Planning, College of Communication Information and Media, College of Fine Arts, College of Sciences and Humanities, Honors College, Miller College of Business, Teachers College

July 15, 2015

Campuswide efforts to improve student retention have resulted in Ball State University experiencing the largest five-year increase in on-time graduation rates of any public institution of higher education in the state.

In a report released by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), Ball State’s four-year graduation rates increased by 12.1 percentage points, from 32.6 percent in 2009 to 44.7 percent in 2014.

Over the same time period, Purdue University's West Lafayette campus increased by 11.5 percentage points, while Indiana University-Bloomington saw a 10.1 percentage point gain. The state's overall rate rose by 6.7 percentage points.

"This significant progress towards increasing our graduation rates at Ball State reflects the strong commitment of all of our campus community to our students’ success," said Ball State President Paul Ferguson. "Consistent with our Centennial Commitment strategic plan, we have developed a concerted effort to increase our four-year graduation rate to at least 50 percent by Ball State’s 100th anniversary in 2018.

"This type of effort requires the positive collaboration between our Divisions of Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Business Affairs, and Enrollment, Marketing and Communications."

The surge in Ball State students earning their degrees in four years is due to the university's broad-based commitment to helping students succeed both in and out of the classroom, said Kay Bales, vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

"We have always been committed to helping students succeed and the latest data shows that we are making significant strides in doing so," Bales said. "We have created opportunities for students—as soon as they arrive on campus for summer orientation—to foster successful college careers by connecting with their peers, engaging with campus activities and being challenged in a supportive academic environment."

Examples of programs offered by Ball State's Division of Student Affairs include:

  • Commuter Ambassadors, a program addressing commuter-specific needs by pairing upper-level student ambassadors with first-year commuter students. Freshman commuter retention has risen from 71.4 percent when the program began to 76.1 percent for the 2014 class.
  • Transfer Ambassadors, a program linking first-semester transfer students with upperclassmen who share their collegiate knowledge and offer advice for a successful transition to Ball State. Transfer student retention has risen from 77.6 percent when the program began to 79.7 for the 2014 group.
  • Sophomore Peer Coaches, who connect students with campus resources and extracurricular events. The program's main focus is fostering career connections through on-site employer visits along with providing leadership and personal development opportunities.
  • Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars, a state-assisted program for low-income Hoosier students that covers their college tuition. Freshmen retention rose from 75.2 percent to 77.6 percent since Ball State's Office of Student Affairs began overseeing Ball State's 21st Century Scholar population.

Ball State also has made a targeted effort in assisting students academically at risk since the 2013 creation of its Retention and Graduation Office.

"The office provides dedicated staff to work with these students," Bales said. "We reach out to them via email and phone and by scheduling face-to-face meetings. It's the kind of personal attention that allows us to learn more about them so we can create a plan and timeline to achieve their academic goals."

Bales said today's college students face numerous challenges. "From financial concerns to social interaction to not making connection in the classrooms, it can be hard," she said. "It’s our job to reach out and assist the students in meeting these challenges."

Ball State will unveil a new analytics tool to further assist with student retention efforts during the 2015-16 academic year. Rapid Insight, a predictive intelligence software, will allow Bales and her staff to make data-driven decisions aiding Ball State's efforts to improve student engagement, which research has shown is a key factor for students to graduate on time.

"We’ve collected data for many years, but for the first time ever, Rapid Insight will allow us to use data in new ways," Bales said. "Through the use of students' ID cards, we track attendance at events to determine when students stop participating. At that point, we can quickly reach out to determine why and help them overcome any challenges they may be facing."