In 2017 — the most recent year for which the statistics have been calculated and analyzed — Lincoln University's graduates included only 14 percent of the students who began as first-year students in 2011.
Four years earlier — in 2013 — LU's statistics show 22 percent of the first-year students in 2007 had completed all their requirements and graduated within six years.
"The most important metrics of a successful university include its retention rates, graduation rates and employment rates of graduates in their respective fields," new LU President Jerald Jones Woolfolk told Lincoln's faculty and staff last Monday, during the annual Fall Institute.
"We have major, major work ahead — I am ready for the challenge, and I hope you are, as well."
Lincoln isn't alone in facing what may be an issue as old as colleges and universities themselves — how to attract students to come to your school instead of going to the competition. And once they're enrolled, how to keep them coming until they graduate.
The discussion isn't new for Lincoln, where former President Kevin Rome and his administration also talked about recruiting more students and keeping them.
John D. Jones, Lincoln's new provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, repeated the emphasis Tuesday in a meeting with the Faculty Senate.
"Retention and graduation rates — that is what we are responsible for," he said Tuesday morning. "Retention and graduation is everybody's business at the institution."
But the faculty plays an important role in that effort, he said.
Still, in these days of increasing costs and less state funding for state-owned public schools, the challenge may be greater than in the past.
"As you know, there are a lot of changes in the state, and we can no longer count on state dollars," Sandy Koetting, LU's former chief financial officer, who now is vice president for Administration and Finance, told the faculty and staff last week.
In recent years, she noted, "Our general operating budget is $36 million. The majority of that revenue — 55 percent — comes from state appropriations.
"The second largest resource for Lincoln University revenue is tuition, incidental and mandatory fees, at 21 percent."
On the expenses side, salaries and employee benefits make up most of the school's expenses — 67 percent.
"(Income from) tuition and fees are becoming more and more important," Koetting said, explaining a full-time, undergraduate, in-state student "spends about $6,000, per academic year, on tuition and fees."
State law limits colleges' and universities' ability to raise tuition rates to no more than the rise in consumer costs.
So, Koetting said, the best way to grow revenues for LU operations is to continue getting more students to attend LU and stay in school — generating revenue by the number of credit-hours they take.
And some of that involves enrollment management.
LU history professor Debra Greene served as the interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and recently was named the school's associate provost for Enrollment Management and Strategic Academic Initiatives.
She told last week's Fall Faculty-Staff Institute: "The concept of enrollment management dates back to the mid-1970s, when the term was coined.
"Proactive colleges and universities started looking for new approaches to maintain the number of new students they enrolled at their universities in the face of declining enrollment."
Aided by increased computerization that allowed more detailed records to be kept, Greene said the enrollment management concept "grew in the 1980s, when functions such as financial aid, registration (and) student records expanded beyond the whole idea of enrolling new students.
"And in the 1980s, it began to include retention and graduation rates."
The idea — and the statistics and how they're used — continue to grow.
For years, most colleges and universities were considered just as places of learning, with students earning degrees that could be important in their post-college working careers.
Today, state officials and private sector business leaders want to know more about the skills students are being taught and how effective those students will be once they're in the working world rather than the academic one.
Missouri lawmakers several years ago made performance funding — how well a school has done in teaching its students skills useful in the workplace — a criteria for increased state appropriations directed to the colleges and universities.
"As you all know — if you've been paying attention to higher education," Greene said, "pretty soon it will be post-graduate job-placement, careers and post-baccalaureate education rates, as well."
Greene said Lincoln has, on average over the last few years, enrolled about 400 new students.
However, she said the school's statistics show, "On average, we're retaining about half of those students every year."
And the number keeps dropping for each succeeding year a student takes classes — although the extra time improves the number of graduates.
For example, of that 2017 graduating class, Greene said, "Only 7 percent of them graduated in four years.
"Only 12 percent (of the starting group) graduated in five years, and only 14 percent graduated in six years."
Greene said the best way to address the problem is to "start looking at ourselves and ask, 'What can I do better?' 'What can I do differently?'"
Providing constant advice — not just in planning for classes — is one answer, she said. Remembering what their own college years were like, and using that memory to help new students learn how to study, is another.
"The most important thing is (to provide) current and relevant academic programs," Greene said. "Ask: 'What would be relevant for my students?'"
In her Monday morning address, Woolfolk also discussed the issue.
"We must take a look at our academic programs to ensure that our curriculums are tightly coupled with performance requirements in the workforce," she said.
"We must make sure that we have the right mix of academic programs that will attract traditional and non-traditional students."
To accomplish those things, Woolfolk said: "We must take sure we have a strategic marketing and recruitment plan, based on data-driven decision-making.
"We must make sure we have a strategic plan that does not just sit on the shelf, but one that is used and assessed on a regular basis — preferably every six months.
"If we do not assess, we do not know where we are or where we are going."
Woolfolk said her administration soon will start developing a new strategic plan for the 152-year-old university.
"We must have a strategic university plan that has action plans for every unit on this campus," she said. "And, most importantly, a strategic plan that provides appropriate funding to achieve the desired goals.
"We all must be involved in our strategic planning activities, and we all — including me — will be held accountable."