Wellesley retains 95 percent of first years entering in 2012
By KARA BANSON ’17
In the Office of Institutional Research’s 2013-2014 College Factbook, the retention rate, defined as the percent of students returning to the College at the beginning of sophomore year, is 95 percent for the students who entered in 2012. This cohort is specifically defined as first-time, full-time first-year students who entered in the fall semester in 2012. The overall six-year graduation rate for the entering cohort in 2008 was 91 percent.
The Office of Institutional Research (OIR) gathers data across the College and presents it in the factbook, which is an internal resource produced annually in October. Additionally, the data is shared publicly in a standard survey known as the Common Data Set and is published on the College website.
The federal government requires all colleges and universities that receive any federal funding, including federal financial aid and federal research grant money, to complete the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System surveys. The availability of the public data enables colleges and universities to mark how they compare to their peers.
Annick Mansfield, institutional research director, believes that graduation rates provide important insight on the students’ experiences and areas where the College may need to improve.
“Although the federal government requires it, we would like to know whether Wellesley is more hospitable or less hospitable to certain groups,” Mansfield said. “We would like to know where we can help students.”
Elena Bernal, associate provost for institutional planning and assessment, believes that the attainment of a degree is cultural capital that can be used by students to gain new opportunities and achieve their dreams. Furthermore, she explains the importance of coupling graduation rates with other demographics and factors.
“Tracking graduation rates is most meaningful when coupled with a focus on what affects those rates to be higher or lower overall or for any group of students,” Bernal said. “It is only then that the rates provide a place to begin understanding intersections of experiences in and out of the classroom, contextualized by diverse backgrounds and trajectories of development, and the coalescence of learning outcomes that lead to new possibilities upon graduation.”
The four-year graduation rate is 86 percent for the cohort that entered the College in 2009, specifically 506 students who graduated in four years or less from the date of entry. Wellesley has the highest six-year graduation rate of the Seven Sisters.
On campus, many different offices and departments use the data. For instance, various multicultural advisors analyze the data, which can be organized by race and ethnicity, to see how certain groups’ performance compares or contrasts to other groups. The data is used in conjunction with the student surveys that are administered during the academic year.
The six-year graduation rate is 90 percent for Hispanic students, 89 percent for Asian students, 85 percent for black students, 67 percent for American Indian students and 91 percent for white students who entered the College in 2007. Additionally, for students identifying as two or more races, the six-year graduation rate is 96 percent and 98 percent for international students entering in 2007.
In addition to race and ethnicity demographics, the College considers how being a first generation student affects students’ experience at college. Mansfield explained that students whose parents attended college may possess knowledge about how a college functions, whereas first generation students may take more time to learn about and take advantage of the opportunities and resources at college.
In 2013, 13 students transferred to the College and eight Davis Scholars enrolled. Transfer students and Davis scholars are not included in the graduation and retention rate calculations because they are not first time, full-time, traditionally aged students.
For the cohort entering in 2012, the retention rate is 95 percent, which is consistent with previous years. Retention rates at comparable institutions such as Barnard College and Smith College for the entering year of 2012 are both 94 percent.
Bernal states that Wellesley’s high retention rate fits the larger trend of high retention rates at selective schools. She explained that students who are accepted by selective schools often are aware of the academic expectations and campus culture prior to enrollment. Additionally, Bernal mentioned that Wellesley’s high retention rate indicates how satisfied students are with their liberal arts education and experience.
“Larger institutions are trying to replicate certain characteristics of small liberal arts colleges, such as high student to faculty contact which is a strong predictor of satisfaction and success on campus,” Bernal said.
Polina Soshnin ’14 was surprised by the College’s high retention rate.
“I think it is slightly surprising because I know that Wellesley is a very particular environment, and it is really difficult before entering college to understand that,” Soshnin said.
In the Sophomore Survey, the OIR asks students if they thought about transferring from the College and if so, why. Based on the answers from the survey, Mansfield explained that the most frequent reasons for transferring included wanting a coed environment, to be closer to home, to attend their first-choice school and to be in a city. Additionally, others thought about transferring because Wellesley does not support the major or field they are interested in pursuing, such as marketing or engineering.
In recent years, seven to eight percent of entering cohorts have withdrawn before graduation. Of these students, about one third of them transfer immediately to another institution. It is unknown if or when the remaining students who withdrew transferred to another institution later on.