This article features excerpts from a popular Noel-Levitz white paper originally released in 2000, The Earth-Shaking But Quiet Revolution in Retention Management, by Randi Levitz and Lee Noel, founders of Noel-Levitz. Download the original white paper here or read additional excerpts online.
MYTH: Students bring a cogent map of college success to campus
The real reason students do not succeed or stay at many institutions goes even beyond the lack of a cogent map; it is the fact that they have expectations for themselves in and after college that they do not know how to activate. Many of these expectations are really at the most basal level of integration into campus life. For example, students may not even know how to meet their expectations for social life. On campuses nationwide students complain, “There’s nothing to do here.”
A large research university actually counted the number of activities on its campus in one month. The total, 1,072, was staggering, yet students said there was nothing to do. What does that say? Probably that students don’t know how to participate. Many residence hall students don’t know how to join a campus group, whether before, after, or even during dinner. Similarly, commuter students don’t know how to get involved, even when their work/home schedule permits them to do so.
At the root of these “non-connects” is the fact that we have vastly overrated students’ abilities in these key areas:
- Learning the norms of the campus culture
- Finding a niche
- Reaching out and then putting down roots
- Transferring success behaviors from other settings
- Putting on blinders/developing focus on the task at hand
- Resisting peer pressures
- Compartmentalizing family or work pressures
- Exhibiting the classroom and study habits of successful students
- Building relationships with teachers
- Asking for help
Because students cannot articulate their needs, they are unable to seek help to address these needs unless the institution intervenes. Contrary to popular belief, students don’t bring a map of their future to campus—they need help building a plan a step at a time. We need to recognize that even good students need this kind of help and guidance.
MYTH: Academic preparedness equates to persistence
We need to dispel the myth that dropouts are “flunkouts.” On nearly every campus in North America, this is the prevailing myth. The fact is, many dropouts are outstanding students. Many institutions have hard data to document this. One campus for example, found that 28 percent of the students in its top quartile for high school GPA and ACT/SAT scores were not enrolled at that institution one year later. This came as a shock to everyone on campus, from the president on down. This discovery has recurred on scores of campuses. A national study conducted several years ago revealed that 37 percent of the students who did not return for the second year at their initial institution had earned freshman year college GPAs of 2.50 or greater. (It is important to note that many institution-specific studies have supported the fact that college GPAs are generally .5 to 1.0 units lower than students’ high school GPAs.)
It is reasonable to conclude, then, that there is a tremendous difference between being academically prepared or having the “right” academic credentials and being ready to persist and succeed academically. What works is to provide support early enough to make a difference. By “front loading” the first term with ample people and programs, we can unlock the academic potential and the capacity for success that each student brings to campus.
MYTH: Retention means lowering standards
Retention does not require lowering standards, yet this is what many faculty fear is necessary in the name of student retention. However, retention effectiveness has nothing to do with that. Standards can and must be maintained. What is needed is an incremental success plan. Putting stepping stone policies and programs in place will enable students to meet the standards we set, rather than, in the words of John Roueche, permit students to participate in a “right to fail” situation.
As mentioned earlier, an effective approach to retention does not assume that even students with superior grades or test scores during high school are going to perform at that same level once in college. We need to understand and use new ways of tapping into students’ attitudes and motivations so we can bring students up from the level at which they entered. This is truly the value we can add as a result of students spending time with us.
MYTH: Students drop out because of finances, work, and/or family—Reasons out of our control
Finances, work, and/or family commitments do in fact cause some students to drop out of college. However, for every student who drops out, you can almost always find a perfect “match”—someone who remains in school who comes from a similar socioeconomic, demographic, and academic background with similar work/family obligations and personal characteristics. These persons usually have a story to tell, and it is often about a person—a faculty or staff member on the campus who recognized them, made them feel important, and who helped them activate a “can-do” attitude. What a difference that makes!
Download the original white paper here for more insights on how to build a campus culture that encourages student success and student retention.
For more information
Visit the Noel-Levitz website’s Papers and Research section for reports and white papers such as:
- 2014 National Freshman Attitudes Report
- 2014 Report: Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions
- 2013 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report
- 2013 Student Retention and College Completion Practices Report
- 2013 Report: Online Student Readiness and Satisfaction Within Subpopulations
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