Baylor has record enrollment, graduation rates, freshman retention

Baylor freshmen pose at a football game in their traditional line jerseys. The university has had an increase in enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Clarissa Anderson | Reporter

Baylor has hit record highs in enrollment, graduation rates and freshman retention, and higher 2017 ranking by U.S. News & World Report. The fall 2016 freshman class is the second largest class yet with a total of 3,503 students, and out-of-state freshman enrollment increased to 35.7 percent.

“We are very pleased to see the message of Baylor University is reaching more students every day around the nation,” said Jennifer Carron, associate vice president of undergraduate enrollment, in a Baylor Media Communications press release. “This class will enable our graduates to have a more far-reaching alumni base with whom to connect, leading them to better opportunities throughout their careers.”

Overall, minority enrollment is up to 34.6 percent, and over the past seven years, Baylor’s retention rate of first-time freshmen has improved by 9 percent to reach fall 2016’s record of 89 percent of freshmen returning to Baylor for their sophomore year.

Baylor is U.S. News & World Report ranked No. 71 in the nation, placing it second in the Big 12 after UT Austin (No. 56). Baylor is also ranked fourth in Texas after Rice University (No. 15), SMU (No. 56) and UT Austin (No. 56). Baylor is also ranked above Texas A&M (No. 74) and TCU (No. 82).

The increase in student enrollment Baylor has been experiencing is important, said Dr. Sinda Vanderpool, associate vice provost for academic enrollment management, because many private universities are struggling to maintain their enrollment while public universities are gaining momentum.

“Baylor has been in a tough spot in the past six months, but when I saw the results were still positive, I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude [to its students],” Vanderpool said.

Even though Baylor has been having more students enroll, retention rates are still rising. Vanderpool said the increase in student retention can be correlated with Baylor providing more support for underrepresented populations, using data better and honing New Student Experience courses.

“In the past six or seven years, we’ve been able to be a little bit more intentional with mentoring students,” Vanderpool said.

Baylor has started “First In Line,” a program to provide resources to Baylor’s growing population of first-generation college students. To reach other minorities, faculty at Baylor have been learning which students need which types of support. The university also administers surveys to new transfer and freshman students to determine which students need more help. Now Baylor has better systems to utilize the data found in these surveys to assist students, such as to alert residence hall directors to have CLs reach out to certain individuals.

The university has also reset its goals to get more students to graduate in four years. The fall 2012 class set record graduation rates, with 62.7 percent graduating in four years.

“[Baylor has] set a record three years in a row for four-year graduation rates,” Dr. Wesley Null, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor in the School of Education and the Honors College, said in a Baylor Media Communications press release. “We still have a great deal of work to do to maintain this momentum and achieve our aspirations, but the tools and people are in place to continue the success we’ve seen.”

To increase four-year graduation rates, Baylor has partnered with the Student Success Collaborative to use statistical research to determine which major would be the best fit for a student and identify student’s risk of low performance early on.

U.S. News & World Report rankings are scored by weights in different categories, much like the grading scale in a student syllabus. According to a Baylor IRT report released on Monday, rankings are based 22.5 percent on undergraduate academic reputation index, 20 percent on faculty resources, 22.5 percent on graduation and retention, 12.5 percent on student selectivity, 10 percent on financial resources, 5 percent on alumni giving and 7.5 percent on graduation rate performance.

Baylor’s ranking statistically rose due to the university’s increases in freshman retention rate, faculty resources, the percentage of classes under 20 students, selectivity and the alumni giving rank.

“We’re in a great place, but it’s because of the wonderful students we have,” Vanderpool said.