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Minnesota community colleges trying innovative ways to improve retention, completion and transfer rates
This is the time of year Inver Hills Community College Vice President Barbara Read stands in the door of the admissions office and greets a new student with a four-word question: "What is your goal?"

The question goes to the heart of the college's five-year-old "Finish What You Start" effort to improve retention, completion and transfer rates. Whether a student is there for general requirements to transfer to a four-year university, or for an associate's degree or a certificate, Inver Hills has a message.

"From recruitment all the way through to graduation, we want students to know we're the place that will help you finish what you start," said Read, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at the 40-year-old college in Inver Grove Heights. "It's a mantra and an opportunity to build a campus-wide spirit."

The program, which includes "learning communities" for first-year students and condensed developmental classes, is considered one of the successful persistence initiatives in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, the fifth-largest of its kind in the nation with 25 community and technical colleges and seven universities.

Other two-year colleges in the MnSCU system are rolling out "student success" programs and fine-tuning pilots as part of a statewide accountability push and a commitment to national efforts like Complete College America.

MnSCU's first- to second-year retention rate has started to budge, rising 2 percentage points in the last year, said Leslie Mercer, MnSCU's associate vice chancellor for research, planning and effectiveness. In 2006, Minnesota's retention rate ranked 26th in the nation.
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