For many students, college is everything they thought it would be. For some, the college experience can be a little more complicated.
According to U.S. News and World Report, one in three freshmen students will not make it back to the same school for their sophomore year. Students can drop out for any number of reasons: family problems, financial problems, academic struggles or personal issues.
At Texas Tech University, the freshman retention rate is among the lower half of all Big 12 institutions. Texas Tech retained 82 percent of freshmen from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2013, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Patrick Hughes, associate vice provost for undergraduate education at Texas Tech, said student retention and success are important to a university because retention is one of the metrics used to evaluate higher education.
“Universities want to achieve the highest profile possible,” Hughes said. “Having a reputation for a university who recruits, retains and graduates its students in a timely manner is important.”
He said they have introduced projects such as Programs for Academic Development and Retention and Support Operations for Academic Retention to help identify students who need help and assistance, but these are mainly to influence a student’s academic performance.
“They are primarily interested in doing what they can to prevent attrition as a result of academic problems students might have,” Hughes said. “You’ll see SOAR, that is particularly interested in doing what it can to help students improve their academic performance and standing on campus.”
For freshmen in particular, Hughes said Texas Tech has started a program called Raider Ready that is meant to help students with not just academic achievement, but overall success in college life. He said the goal of this program is to help students get through their whole first years by teaching them everything from how to register for classes to how to talk to their advisors.
He said that students who take this course are typically retained at a higher rate than other students. While this program is helpful, he said it is voluntary. The school tries to impart the importance of this course at freshman orientation.
While Texas Tech is in the middle of the pack when it comes to Big 12 institutions in freshman retention rate, Hughes said they tend to measure themselves based off of other institutions they want to compare themselves to like the universities who are apart of the Association of American Universities.
“AAU universities tend to have a freshman retention rate between 85 and 90 percent,” Hughes said. “So, a lot of universities measure where they are and where they want to go based on where the universities are that seem to model where they want to be, like the universities on that list.”
The other variable in academic retention, besides the efforts of the school, are the students.
Ian Rodriguez, a Lubbock native and former full-time Texas Tech student, said he started school in the fall of 2011 with the intention of getting a degree in music performance. But after some time, he started to lose interest.
“Halfway into that first semester I lost interest in what I was doing,” Rodriguez said. “There was a lot of, ‘Is this really what I want to do?’ or ‘Do I really want to be in an orchestra for the rest of my life?’”
Rodriguez said his doubt about his major was not the only thing causing him stress half way through that first semester. He said he was also working almost full-time on top of his full class load.
“I was working 39 hours a week on top of 15 or 16 hours that I was taking.” Rodriguez said. “And of course I was a music major, so I was also having to practice, like, four hours outside of class, too.”
While he made it through that first semester, Rodriguez was struggling in classes and was still unsure about what direction he wanted to go in. He said it was difficult to change majors and so he decided to keep the music performance designation until he could figure out what he wanted to do.
Unfortunately, Rodriguez said this might have been a poor choice because around March of the spring semester, he had pretty much decided to call it quits.
At that point, he said he felt like working was the better option because he was not happy at school, and if anything, he felt like he was doing well at his Aeropostale management position.
While some students leave because they are not sure what they want to do, some leave because they think there is a better college experience out there.
Lisandro Gonzalez, a Detroit native and senior public relations major, said he began having doubts about his college path during his sophomore year. He said he started to get bummed about some of the social decisions he had made at the beginning of his academic career.
“What really struck me was, I came in the Greek system here not really knowing how things were going to go with my fraternity or how the trend of things were going at the time,” Gonzalez said.
He said he was disappointed with how his fraternity was less outgoing and smaller than some of the other organizations on campus. He started thinking about how he could have done things differently at the beginning.
“You’ve been waiting to be in college since high school,” Gonzalez said. “And when things aren’t as exciting as you thought they would be, it disillusions you to why you wanted to be at Tech.”
After leaving, Gonzalez said he fully intended on finding a new school to call home, but after gaining some perspective on what college was supposed to be about, he decided to come back to Texas Tech.
“As I took my time away, it made me realize all of things I took for granted: the great classes, the friends, the campus, the enthusiasm,” Gonzalez said.
Now, semesters removed from his break, Gonzalez said he is looking forward to graduating soon.
As for Rodriguez, he spent his time away taking classes at South Plains College. He said he gained confidence and knows he can now tackle a degree at Texas Tech.
Rodriguez started back at Texas Tech as a part-time student this semester in pursuit of becoming a high school history teacher. He said he is focusing on raising his GPA from his initial semesters at Texas Tech.
“I knew I had made a mess that first year at Tech,” Rodriguez said. “I could sit here and get discouraged about it, but I’m here because I want to be here and I’m willing to accept the consequences of what I’ve done. That’s why I’m here, to set the record straight.”
Sometimes things don’t go the way students plan them to go, but Gonzalez said no one ever said this was going to be easy.
“As a young person, you expect happiness to be a lot easier to find, whereas no one ever said that would be the case, no one said life was going to be easy,” Gonzalez said. “Sure excitement and fun comes, but it comes with a grain of responsibility.”