Luther College Chips

Demographic retention rates in perspective

Graph courtesy of Luther College IPEDS annual reporting

Graph courtesy of Luther College IPEDS annual reporting

Martin Donovan, Staff Writer

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Luther’s Strategic Plan for 2018 – 2023 details an effort to increase the college’s overall diversity as well as its retention of underrepresented students.

Since 2008, the average four-year graduation rate for all demographics at Luther has hovered at 68.3 percent. However, the six-year graduation rate is almost ten percentage points higher with the mean sitting at 76.7 percent.

Luther’s Director of Assessment and Institutional Research (AIR) Jon Christy (‘84) and Assistant Director of AIR Nan Hibbs compounded Luther’s retention rates of 2008-2010 first-year students. Their goal was to compare Luther’s six-year graduation rates by race, gender, and ethnicity with other private non-profit colleges. The reason AIR compiled three years’ worth of data on graduation rates is because of the small number of students in certain race and ethnicity categories enrolled at Luther.

In this three-year span, Luther’s overall six-year graduation rate was 79.3 percent, whereas the national average of private non-profit institutions was at 62.2 percent. However, the 52.6 percent retention rate of female Latina students at Luther was lower than the national average of 60.7 percent. Also, there was no reported representation of “American Indian or Alaska Native” or “Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander” among first-year students from 2008 to 2010.

According to Luther’s 2017 fall semester census data, there were 221 U.S. students of color enrolled at Luther which accounted for 10.8 percent of Luther’s total student body. Additionally, there were 161 international students enrolled, which made up 7.8 percent of Luther’s total student body.

In addition to racial and ethnic diversity, “The New York Times” created an annual College Access Index to measure colleges’ “commitment to socioeconomic diversity.” The College Access Index analyzes the total number of low and middle-income students enrolled in a college that has a graduation rate of at least 75 percent,  and the price students pay to attend the institution. In the most recent College Access Index, Luther was below average for socioeconomic diversity, ranking 116th out of 171 colleges and universities in the U.S.

One way Luther hopes to increase the college’s retention of underrepresented students is by working with an organization called College Possible. The aim of College Possible is to make higher education more accessible to low-income and first generation college students by guiding them through the college application process.

For the 2018 fall semester College Possible is extending its high school model onto Luther’s campus, through a program called Catalyze.

“It is going to be geared towards under represented, lower income, and first generation students,” said Luther’s Coordinator of Diversity Josue Silva (‘16). “We want to make sure that students who are first generation [and] who may not have much knowledge from their parents or relatives of what their career is going to be like [at Luther]”.

Luther is searching for recent Luther graduates to act as mentors to the students apart of catalyze.

“We are currently looking to hire Luther grads to take over this position who know what it is like to be a student here, to show them where all the resources are, who to talk to,” Silva said. “They are going to be in charge of making sure that they are in classes [and] making sure they stay on top of their academics”.

Silva also noted the recent increase in enrollment for domestic students of color at Luther, and attributed it to Luther’s culture.

“I’ll speak for myself as a former student and what my experience was like. Look at Luther and how progressive and welcoming the school is, that is what drew me as a student,” Silva said. “I grew up in Chicago and went to a school near downtown Chicago where it was as diverse as it could be. I don’t want to generalize because it is not the case for everyone, but [Luther] is a very welcoming place”.

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