MCTC retention rates lowest in MNSCU system: What are we doing about it?

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Minneapolis Community Technical College has the lowest fall to fall retention rate of any school in the Minnesota State Colleges and University system at 64.6%. This is 6.2% lower than the college average. MCTC is losing many students well before they graduate.

First, there are some serious disparities between students of color, and white students. White female students are retained at 59% while their male counterparts are slightly lower at 54%. Students of color, defined as any non-white, or white Hispanic, are retained at a rate of 51% for females, and 43% for males.

“White students versus students of color there is close to a 10% gap consistent across all demographic groups,” said Tabitha Miller, Research Analyst Specialist from the Office of Strategy, Planning and Accountability, who prepared the equity data on course success and retention at MCTC.

There are also disparities between Pell eligible, how low income is defined by MCTC, and non-Pell eligible. As well as between High School diploma and GED.

If there is one takeaway from this piece, it should be that withdrawing from too many courses affects satisfactory academic progress (SAP) completion rate. Withdrawing impacts retention even more than course success.

“We see many more students withdrawing from their classes, than we see failing classes. In fact, it’s a 2:1 ratio. For every 1 student failing a class, 2 students withdraw,” said Miller.

Many students don’t know that if they withdraw from too many courses and their completion rate drops below the minimum, they will be put on suspension, and not be able to register, and then need to appeal. If they do end up succeeding in the appeal they will be placed on probation.

“Administrative withdraw Is actually more common than student withdrawing,” said Miller.

Faculty can withdraw any student from their class if the student does not attend class for 2 calendar weeks. Informing a faculty member before the absence doesn’t necessarily guarantee a student won’t be withdrawn. Students must have 67% completion rate of all their courses, across all semesters, to avoid academic suspension.

It is not always easy to go back to school after academic suspension. Students that do not meet the 67% rate, and do not make it through the suspension appeal process are not retained, and impact retention rates for the school. Completion rates are affected by around a 15% achievement gap as well. About 1/3 of students with GEDs are making the 67% mark, and about ½ of students with high school diplomas are making the 67% mark.


Many first semester students may not know that with a full withdrawal from courses in the first semester attending college, one might receive an academic warning—then find it nearly impossible to reach the 67% in the second semester. Not reaching that 67% mark in the second semester would put students on academic suspension, and make it difficult to return to classes the third semester.

“Trying to recover from a 0% completion rate, you’re almost inevitably if not completely inevitably going to get suspended your second term,” said Miller.

Course success is another factor that affects retention. A success is defined as an A, B, C, or pass, a non-success is defined as an F, an NC (noncredit), or W (withdraw). Again, we see a disparity between white students and students of color, a 10% achievement gap. Students are typically not being retained because of non-successes in courses and withdrawing from classes.

An explanation for why MCTC has lower retention rates might be that the campus is attended by more people who need a little more academic support than the rest of the MNSCU system.

“We have more students facing a combination of factors that research shows impacts success – students of color, low income, first generation, developmental education placement, and GED,” said Miller.

“We are evaluating placement practice. What we know is there is some systematic bias in testing. Maybe Accuplacer isn’t necessarily doing a good job of placing students exactly where they need to be, in order to be successful in the classroom. Right now we are examining a process that might look at multiple measures that might allow students to have a different placement. What we also know is the longer the path between the student’s enrollment and the student’s graduation, the less likely it is they are going to get there,” said Miller.

Something MCTC is offering now, to remedy this same problem, are some accelerated paths through developmental courses, such as STATWAY, for the math pathway, and ENGA, that combines developmental and college level English, that help students get through developmental courses more quickly.

MCTC helps support affected students in several ways. The Learning Center MCTC provides is correlated with higher retention. They are attempting to get more students to keep up with their student email as well, as regularly checking email and D2L is also correlated with higher retention.

Another way MCTC is trying to retain more students is the early alert program through MCTC advising. When students haven’t been attending their courses the advisors make it a high priority to contact the student. They then arrange a meeting and try to find ways to help the student get back on track. MCTC is also surveying students withdrawing from courses to find out why people are withdrawing. They can’t act to rectify students withdrawing at a high rate, unless we know why they are withdrawing.

Another solution for MCTC’s retention rates is addressing the issue of college readiness. They work with the K-12 system with many different programs. Destination: Diploma to Degree offers an opportunity to earn a technical diploma while still in high school. PSEO allows students in high school to earn college level credits. There is also a program that teaches developmental courses to high school students, so they are ready for college by the time they get here.

One can hope that MCTC’s initiatives and plans are making progress with retention. The college seems to have many ideas on how to address this problem, though there are many larger societal issues that need to be addressed by more than just faculty, staff and students at MCTC. It would seem MCTC faces some challenges, such as the achievement gap and cultural bias in testing. These issues have been going on for a long time in our world, and have no immediate solution. These issues may also be more pronounced at MCTC due to students with more academic need. Miller was kind enough to concisely explain MCTCs values and mission on this topic,

“We definitely don’t see these challenges as a burden, but rather a privilege. Our mission is to help students overcome any barriers that stand in the way of them achieving their educational goals. MCTC is proud to serve the Minneapolis community at-large, and that includes a commitment to improving outcomes for students who need the most academic support. We certainly recognize that we have some areas we can improve, and hopefully we are making changes to that end, but that is a goal we are committed to achieving because we recognize the importance for everyone to achieve their educational goals regardless what their previous academic experience or their socioeconomic status. Education can be trans-formative in many ways, especially in terms of improving the economic conditions and job opportunities for community.”

This topic bears further discussion on campus. There must be more we can be doing at MCTC to solve this problem, both students and faculty. The fact that the most diverse school in the MNSCU system also has the worst retention rates by far speaks some very serious issues. As college students, here at MCTC we have an opportunity to bring values and skills imparted at MCTC out in to the world, and be part of the solution for some of these challenges our society faces.