Cal Poly Pomona retains students amid rising college dropout rates

By Hannah Smith, Mar. 1, 2022

Nationwide, college student retention rates have decreased as the COVID-19 pandemic is on its second year of interrupting higher education. Only 73% of first-year students who began college in fall 2019 returned fall of 2020 at any institution — the lowest level since 2012.

While nationally students have been less likely to continue their college education because of factors caused by the pandemic, Cal Poly Pomona has increased its retention rate, or the rate of first-year students who continue their education at CPP into their second year. The average retention rate of the last five cohorts of students has been 87%, with 88% of students who began in fall of 2020 returning in the fall of 2021.

Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center; Cal Poly Pomona Common Data Sets (Nicolas Hernandez | The Poly Post)

Meanwhile, the average retention rate of the past 5 years for California colleges overall is 65%, according to National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data.

“(COVID-19) has impacted our students in terms of making different decisions about their enrollment but we have been very fortunate that our students have continued,” said Cecilia Santiago-González, assistant vice president for strategic initiatives for student success.

The pandemic has uprooted many aspects of education, forcing students to change learning styles as well as account for new financial situations. Because of COVID-19, students have had to reconsider what is best for their education and their physical and mental health, leading to the nationwide college retention rates dropping.

Xiomara Melendez, senior coordinator for Access and Transitions, outlined in a statement many of the factors that have caused CPP students to rethink their education path including having to financially support their families, adapt to changes in instruction mode due to the pandemic, and manage food and shelter insecurities.

While these factors have caused an increase in the nationwide college dropout rates, CPP has been providing resources for students to ensure that they can take care of their financial and home situations while still completing their college education.

The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund was a chance for students to receive financial support during the pandemic and the Bronco Basic Needs Program also provided CPP students with access to food and other essential items during the pandemic.

With resources to utilize, students were then looking for ways to continue their education in new ways. Many students have continued their education throughout the pandemic and virtual instruction but have lessened their course load. Students often take less than the recommended 15 units per semester to make time for their school and jobs and some opt to utilize summer courses.

Students are also taking advantage of the school’s Stop-Out Term which allows students to take one full semester off without completing any forms or losing their admission spot. Students can also request a Leave of Absence Request which allows them to take up to four consecutive semesters off.

These options have allowed CPP students to adjust their college education path rather than withdrawing from the university.

“They’re smart,” said Jessica Wagoner, senior associate vice president of Enrollment Management and Services. “I think what they’re doing is that they are just very resilient. We have very resilient students here.”

With students enrolling in fewer courses and taking leaves of absences comes an increase in the time it takes students to graduate. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 21% of part-time students graduate within six years and 44% of students who have a mix of part-time and full-time attendance graduate within six years.

The Office of Student Success plans to combat the prolonged graduation times by emphasizing the growing number of summer courses and creating reminders for students to enroll.

Recently, the Office of Student Success created a report that allows it to see which students did not register during their designated windows and reach out to these students and give them another opportunity to register. This extra opportunity has led to an increase in enrollment and helped student continue to the next semester.

“We’re going to make an effort and support students if this is their dream,” said Santiago-González. “If this is what they want to do and the pandemic really impacted them, we want to make sure that we have an open door for them to be able to come back.”

To learn more about the Office of Student Success visit its website.

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