Four-year graduation rates for first-generation students and first-year retention rates are climbing at Texas A&M University. 

Retention and graduation rates at the university are increasing across the board, but rates are higher for first-generation students and students from families making less than $60,000 a year, according to Texas A&M Today

Four-year graduation rates for first-generation students rose to 54.5% from 50.3%, while first-year retention increased to 88.1% from 86.6%. Additionally, first-year retention rates for students in families paid less than $60,000 a year went up to 89.1% from 86.6%, and the four-year graduation rate went up from 50.2% to 54.4%. Overall, A&M’s first-year retention rate is now up to 93.2% from 92.1%, while four-year graduation rates rose to 59% from 56.2%.

A&M University Provost and Executive Vice President Carol Fierke told Texas A&M Today that in “real numbers,” more than 110 additional first-year students remained enrolled at the university. She added that 250 students finished their degrees “on time” throughout the past year. 

“These percentage changes represent hundreds of students impacted,” Fierke said in the release.

Fierke said the increases put the university closer to goals set by the Student Success Initiative, which puts resources toward retaining and graduating students with a focus on first-generation students and students from lower-income families.

For Animal Science sophomore Rayvin Burget, joining Ignite — a learning community for freshman first-generation students — helped her get through the first year of school. In the program, she took a class to learn how to create a resume, handle stress and manage money. But Burget said it was the connections with classmates she met that were the most beneficial. 

“It’s like having a friend when you didn’t have any other friends around,” Burget said. 

Communication junior Victoria Clark said a mentorship program she joined her freshman year was the most useful and influential group that helped her transition into college life. Excellence uniting Culture, Education, & Leadership Student Success Program, more commonly known as ExCEL, is run through Multicultural Services in the Division of Student Affairs. This year, Clark moved up and became a mentor.

“If it weren’t for my peer mentors, I don’t know how my experience would have been or where I would be,” Clark said. “I could have transferred. Having that program and those mentors exposed me to meeting other people who I still talk to today.”

Management senior and head director of Fish Camp Ryan Brown said students who attend the four-day extended orientation program tend to have higher retention rates. 

Brown said 97% of students who attended Fish Camp in 2018 stayed at A&M, which he said is an increase from the past few years. 

Brown credits the trend to members who he said are committed to selfless service and who stay connected with camp attendees throughout the year as they transition to college life. Additionally, he said the student-run organization receives useful support from the university. 

According to Texas A&M Today, the Office for Student Success has partnered with faculty and staff to increase four- and six-year graduation rates as well. Hullabaloo U was launched this year to help first-year students as they adjust to A&M by putting them in classes of 25 or fewer students. They pair students with a peer mentor and faculty or staff member as well. The program may be expanded next year to include all first-time-in-college students.

Other university programs aimed to increase retention and graduation rates include an alert system for students struggling with coursework, a First Generation Center that is in its beginning stages of development and a soon-to-open Math Learning Center. 

“While work remains to reach our goals, the effort and dedication of individuals across our university is showing up in the data we gather and the lives of the students who attend our university,” Fierke said to A&M Today.

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