Baylor to lower acceptance rate for popular majors in effort to increase retention rate

By Viola Zhou

The College of Arts and Sciences will begin restricting the number of students in majors such as biology, psychology and neuroscience in an effort to improve the student retention rate, graduation rate and Baylor’s national ranking.

Shaping the size and profile of arts and sciences freshmen class is one of the initiatives stated in the college’s strategic plan titled A&Spire: Acts of Determination in Support of Baylor University Pro Futuris.

Dr. Blake Burleson, associate dean for undergraduate studies at the College of Arts and Sciences, said biology, psychology and neuroscience need the adjustment most in terms of student size. These majors want to see a decrease in the number of students enrolled.

Dr. Lee Nordt, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said college administrators want all students who are qualified to attend Baylor to major in whatever they want, but realistically there has to be a limit.

“The more students you have, the more challenging it is to provide all of those services to the students,” Nordt said.

He said with the current number of faculty, students may have trouble taking the required courses in the right sequence.

“They may not be able to get into a sophomore course until their junior year,” Nordt said. “There’s just so much demand for the limited sections we can offer with our faculty.”

He said many students want undergraduate research experiences and need faculty members to guide them.

“We either need a whole lot more faculty members really fast, or need to reduce the number of majors really fast,” Nordt said. “Honestly, we need some of both.”

Nordt said the College of Arts and Sciences will consult the departments and work out an optimal number. The specific adjustment measures for recruiting students are under discussion.

The college has tried to limit the number of certain majors by setting up pre-majors this academic year. Students who declare pre-majors must obtain a certain grade in the introductory class before they can actually declare a major.

“The idea is if I can’t make even a minimum grade of B or C in the introductory course of what I want to major in, I’m probably not going to do very well in that major when I progress through the more difficult courses,” Nordt said. “It’s also for students’ benefit that we can intervene to help them find a major that they might be better at or have more interest in. We are trying to help the students to see that very early before their GPA drops too much.”

Burleson said shifting scholarship money might be another method to shape the size of each department.

“The shifting might be from a general pool of money that could go to any student in any major,” he said. “We will probably move some of it to the departments that we want to grow.”

Burleson said Baylor’s Student Financial Aid Office and Admission Services will be conducting the change. The College of Arts and Sciences will be working with them to best meet the needs of its departments.

Biology has the most number of majors in the college. Nordt said that is because of Baylor’s broad reputation in health education nationally and internationally.

“Many students who want to get into the medical school or work in the health sciences see Baylor as a great place to come for an undergraduate education,” he said.

Nordt said although the college is trying to deal with the problem of having too many students in health-related majors, it is still sending enormous resources into these departments.

The strategic plan, released Sept. 12, has five themes: focusing on advancing liberal education, improving research abilities, strengthening community engagement, investing in health sciences and building financial foundation.

The plan states Baylor’s goal to become one of the top 50 institution in the U.S. News & World Report, in which Baylor ranked 71 this year.

Student retention rate and graduation rate are components in U.S. News’ matrix for college ranking calculation.

According to the plan, a freshmen retention rate of 90 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 82 percent by 2022 is the goal, which is comparable to national universities ranked 45 to 50 in U.S. News’ ranking.

Among the 3,625 freshmen admitted to Baylor in fall 2014, 1,648 are in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the rest divided among seven other colleges.

Nordt said this adjustment in student recruitment will help retain students by helping them find the right major and offering high-quality services.

“We want students to come in, to have a positive experience, find their pathway and their dream, be successful and stay here,” he said.