Every other year, Noel-Levitz polls campuses on their most- and least-effective practices for student retention. In response, we get a wide range of answers. This variety isn’t surprising. In our consultations with campuses, we often learn that individual institutions are piecing together a patchwork of practices.
So, one may ask, are there best practices? The answer is yes. However, true “best practices” are those that are customized to match your student populations, grounded in the foundations of each practice, and matched with your institution’s values and mission.
For example, in our 2011 Student Retention Practices Report, 93 percent of campuses said they used first-year experience programs, a popular best practice for student retention. However, not all first-year experience programs are created equal, and some may simply be an English course with a common reading among all first-year students. While this has it merits, the campus should have a first-year experience course grounded in John Gardner’s work that calls for a course which extends orientation and provides engagement activities that foster student success.
Also, each institution needs to know which practices best match its specific student subpopulations. Only by carefully measuring the persistence and progression patterns and the impact of each activity can we confirm the value of so-called “best practices.”