Student Success Metrics Steadily Rise

Students throwing commencement caps in air
October 27, 2020

In 1870, the Vincentian founders of St. John’s University answered a call to meet a challenge that endures today. It was a call to provide quality education to all students, especially to those who would otherwise not have the opportunity to pursue higher education. For 150 years, St. John’s has maintained this commitment to serve all students, regardless of their circumstances. Over the years, many alumni have attributed their success to the education they received at St. John’s and the opportunity that was given to them by a Catholic and Vincentian institution whose mission it is to serve those most in need. 

Since 2014 when President Gempesaw began his tenure, he has emphasized the importance of ensuring student success as the primary strategic priority of St. John’s. He has often said that student access to education can only be meaningful if it is converted to student success. During the past six years, the collective and collaborative efforts of the faculty, staff, and administration have done just that, with the support and generosity of alumni, friends, and benefactors who share the University’s mission.

A review of the University’s latest student success metrics gives testimony to the fact that there is an improving trend of student success as evidenced by higher retention and graduation rates.

The increase in first-year retention rates over the past six years has resulted in record four-year graduation rates since 1990 and six-year graduation rates since 1998. In addition, St. John’s was recently recognized as one of the top performers in social mobility among national universities.

Top Performer in Social Mobility

According to U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2021 Guidebook, the social mobility ranking measures the size of the student population receiving Pell Grants and how well universities performed in graduating those students. The Pell Grant is the largest federal financial aid program designed to provide access to higher education for low-income students, typically those from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually.

In the social mobility ranking, St. John’s is ranked 1st among national Catholic universities and colleges; 2nd among national private institutions in New York; 10th among national private institutions; and 39th among all national public and private colleges and universities, reaffirming the University’s unwavering Vincentian mission to help those most in need.

Among the nearly 12,000 undergraduates attending St. John’s, 35% are Pell Grant recipients. Many are the first in their family to attend college, are racially and ethnically diverse, and often must work to help finance their education. Pell Grant recipients are more likely to borrow money to pay for college and their student loan debt is higher than those of non-Pell Grant recipients.

According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the national average six-year graduation rate for Pell Grant recipients is 49% at 4-year institutions in the U.S. Overall, the generally low national success rate for Pell Grant recipients reflects the unique challenges that low-income college students face – challenges that St. John’s University actively works to mitigate with expanded student support services and significant institutional financial aid. In 2015, St. John’s University’s Pell grant recipients’ six-year graduation rate was 53%. In 2020, St. John’s Pell recipients’ six-year graduation rate increased to 61%, which is 8 percentage points higher. St. John’s Pell recipients’ six-year graduation rate is now 12 percentage points higher than the national average.

Rising Student Retention and Graduation Rates

The first-year retention rate is a measurement of the number of first-year students at a college or university who return to the same institution for their second year. Many variables impact student retention rates including academic issues, financial challenges, program not offered, location and school environment, and personal reasons. First-year retention is an important factor that high school students and their parents consider when selecting a college since it is highly correlated with degree completion.

According to the latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the national average first-year retention rate is 81% for 4-year institutions in the U.S. 

At St. John's University, between the years 2014-2019, the average retention rate has improved by 5 percentage points from previous years and is now at 83% which is higher than the national average.  

When it comes to another metric of student success—graduation rates—St. John’s has made remarkable progress. NCES data show that just 44% of all first-time full-time college students earn a bachelor’s degree in four years.  At St. John’s, the 2016 entering class which graduated in 2020 posted a record four-year graduation rate of 55%, which is a 13-percentage point improvement from the 2016 four-year graduation rate of the 2012 entering class. The 2020 four-year graduation rate is the highest since St. John’s Office of Institutional Research began tracking the data in 1990 and is 11 percentage points higher than the national average for 4-year institutions.

With respect to six-year graduation rates, the national average for 4-year institutions is 62%. At St. John’s, the 2014 entering class which graduated in 2020 recorded a six-year graduation rate of 64%, which is a 6-percentage point improvement from the 2014 six-year graduation rate. This is the highest six-year graduation rate at the University since 1998. St. John's six-year graduation rate is now higher than the national average.

“These noteworthy accomplishments were achieved in such a short period through the hard work of our students, faculty, staff, and administrators, and the generosity and support of alumni, benefactors, employees, and friends of St. John’s University. We are proud that our primary strategic priority to ensure student success has yielded significant improvements in key student success metrics that strengthens our academic reputation and enhances our value proposition,” said President Gempesaw.

Partners for Student Success Scholarship Initiative

In early 2016, an institutional goal to raise $15 million in scholarship endowment funds by 2020— when St. John’s celebrates its 150thAnniversary—was unveiled with the launch of the Partners for Student Success scholarship initiative. The goal of the fundraising initiative is to strengthen the University’s ability to assist students, especially those with financial need, in meeting the costs associated with a St. John’s education. To date, the original fundraising goal of $15 million has been surpassed and almost doubled to $29 million in gifts or pledges, providing a much-needed source of additional scholarships for students. In addition, St. John’s provides substantial institutional financial aid annually to more than 95 percent of its students. Last year, the University allocated $274 million of institutional financial aid. These initiatives will go far in advancing and sustaining St. John’s primary strategic priority of ensuring student success in order to forge a path of mobility and opportunity for students, especially those most in need.