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Learn more about our solutions for student success, or contact Ruffalo Noel Levitz with your student retention questions and challenges.
Learn more about our solutions for student success, or contact Ruffalo Noel Levitz with your student retention questions and challenges.
This is part one of a two-part post on preparing for diverse college student populations. Watch for part two coming soon.
In my more than 20 years working on college campuses, a common theme of conversations has been “are the students we are enrolling ready for college?” This applies to the full range of students: traditional-aged students coming directly from high school, transfer students, adult learners, law school students…. No matter the type of student, faculty and staff frequently ask “are they ready”?
However, now I’m increasingly concerned about whether institutions themselves are “student ready.” Do we know enough about our students as they enter our institutions, either as freshmen or transfers? Do we understand what they are experiencing as they make numerous transitions in their first and second years of enrollment? And do we have nuanced understandings of our diverse college student populations by race/ethnicity, first-generation, by age, and by gender? What do students have in common? Where are their divergent experiences, pressures, and challenges? How prepared is the institution to meet the needs of entering students where they are now, and how solidly in place are the structures for support on day one? Also, do we know what information would be critical to ensure we are “student ready” on day one?
National data on entering students in 2016 was gathered by RNL’s College Student Inventory from 99,300 students attending 290 institutions across North America. Here are some of the key findings, all statistically significant:
By first-generation vs. students with college-educated parents:
Now is the time on most campuses across the country to begin preparing for welcoming new students in the summer and fall. What is driving your decision-making about how to prepare for your newest students? If you’re relying on the traditional (and limited) metrics of high school GPA or transfer student GPA and SAT or ACT, you’re missing significant information that is relevant to student success programs. Having motivational, non-cognitive data available can help you fill in the gaps left by old metrics and ensure that you are “student ready” on Day One.
Interested in learning more about preparing diverse college student populations for success? See all of our reports here on entering students, including the 2017 National Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report and its Addendum by Race/Ethnicity. Questions? Contact us by email or call me at 800.876.1117.
Find out what campuses nationwide are doing to successfully engage students of color, adult learners, online learners, graduate students, and other diverse college student populations. Attend this Symposium to prepare your campus for today’s diverse students. Learn more.
Unable to attend the Symposium? Contact us at 800.876.1117 or send an email to discuss college completion and student success, confidentially, with an expert from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, or learn more about the RNL solutions for student success.
We all live in and enjoy the benefits of a sharing economy, where individuals are able to borrow or rent assets owned by someone else. We see this regularly when the price of the asset is high (a car, a home) and not fully utilized all of the time, think Airbnb, Uber. But it can also apply to the sharing of information technology and intellectual resources. It’s that sharing of intellectual resources, specifically, college student success assets, that I want to focus on today.
As educators, the reality of our work today is that we face intense pressure to address our college student success needs. Think performance-based funding, budgeting and net revenue issues, accreditation, local, regional, and national employment trends. And student needs are changing as demographics change; we have less time and resources to design an effective solution, not to mention we have very little room for error. Instead of designing something from the ground up, we often take advantage of our student success sharing economy and frequently look to established best practices, associations, vendors, and colleagues for an idea that can be customized to fit our unique needs and situation.
I hope you’ve taken advantage of the body of knowledge Ruffalo Noel Levitz contributes to the student success sharing economy. One way we contribute is by celebrating effective college retention programs with the Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards (REAs). More than 170 colleges and universities have been honored with Retention Excellence Awards and they all have shared their retention assets via our compendium. If you’re looking for new ideas to serve minority students, to create a comprehensive retention plan, to recruit back stop outs or virtually anything else, check out the retention assets your colleagues have shared.
Naturally, giving is as important as receiving in the college student success sharing economy. I invite you to share your retention assets by applying for a 2017 Retention Excellence Award (REA). Applications are now being accepted and must be completed by March 17, 2017. The application process is brief and is similar to submitting a proposal to present at a conference. Up to three winners will be recognized and the honor includes a free conference registration to the National Conference on Student Marketing Recruitment and Retention being held in Denver, July 26-28, 2017. Winners are featured in a national webinar hosted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz and will serve as a judge in selecting the 2018 winners.
Please take the time to contribute to the student success sharing economy. I encourage you to review the application and consider applying. The process is easy, and the rewards for your campus and our student success sharing economy are many!
Questions? Please contact me directly by email or call me at 800.876.1117, ext. 8787.
2016 research from Ruffalo Noel Levitz shows student trends and data that colleges and universities can use to guide their planning processes
Ruffalo Noel Levitz conducted numerous studies in 2016 to understand the behaviors and attitudes of prospective and current students in higher education as they relate to student recruitment, campus marketing, and student retention. We also examined current campus practices for enrollment and marketing. Here are just a few highlights from all that we learned this year:
The college website is still the #1 way to communicate with prospective students but the runner-up is now split between email and text messaging. In recent polls, campus officials rated text messaging and email almost equally effective, and 70 percent of prospective students indicated they were open to receiving text messages from colleges and universities. But fewer than half of campuses currently send mass recruiting texts. Download our 2016 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Colleges and universities can accomplish five goals at once by increasing student satisfaction. Many consumer studies have shown that increasing satisfaction builds positive word of mouth. Now a 2016 study has confirmed that increasing student satisfaction is also linked to lower student loan default rates, adding to earlier-confirmed links with higher retention rates, completion rates, and alumni giving. Is your institution measuring and rewarding improvements in satisfaction? See the research.
At $2,232 per student, private colleges spent nearly four times more than four-year public institutions on student recruitment last year. We also learned that budgets for recruitment and admissions remained flat over the past two years for the majority of four-year and two-year institutions. Is your institution tracking ROI on all of its recruiting activities and identifying new, high-payback opportunities? See our 2016 Report: Cost of Recruiting an Undergraduate Student.
40 percent of high school seniors apply to colleges they learn about during their senior year. In addition, 50 percent of seniors rule out institutions based only on “sticker price.” Is your institution focusing a substantial amount of its recruiting on seniors? And how are you emphasizing your institution’s value to skeptical students and parents? Download our 2016 Perceptions of Financial Aid Report and Infographic.
54 percent of adult prospective students have clicked on a paid online ad from a college or university, as have 47 percent of high school juniors, yet most institutions place these ads only occasionally. What new digital outreach strategies should your institution be considering in 2017? Download our 2016 Adult E-Expectations Report, our 2016 E-Recruiting Practices Report, and watch for our forthcoming 2016 E-Expectations Report.
Mathematics is a struggle for 51 percent of incoming adult learners, including 53 percent of incoming first-generation adult students. Our 2016 research shows a majority of incoming students agree with the statement, “Math has always been difficult for me.” Do you know how many students at your institution are struggling with mathematics and other areas inside and outside the classroom? Download our 2016 Adult Learner Motivation to Complete College Report.
95 percent of incoming traditional-age students express a desire to graduate, but only about half do. Our latest freshman research shows a wide array of personal, social, financial, and academic obstacles prevent students from reaching their goals. Have you explored the merits of using noncognitive surveys to better understand your incoming students’ needs early on, or do you wait until you see visible signs of struggle? See our 2016 Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report.
New edition of book, plans for 2017 research
Also in 2016, we released our 2016 update of the book, Strategic Enrollment Planning: A Dynamic Collaboration. Order this authoritative, step-by-step guide to help your campus prepare for major changes in today’s marketplace.
Looking ahead to 2017, we plan to release new benchmarks on college student satisfaction and motivation, new research on recruiting conversion and yield rates, a new study of student retention indicators, and updates on rising seniors’ perceptions of financial aid and high school students’ and parents’ perceptions of and preferences for college communications.
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Learn more about our Higher Education Research
To help educators stay on top of the many changes in higher education, we regularly conduct trend research and share our findings widely. Learn about several ways we provide information.
Some of you may remember Richard Carlson’s late 1990’s advice, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” A copy of this motivational book is on my bookshelf. It reminds me not to let the minutiae of life get in the way of the big picture.
However, when it comes to the college experience of today’s students, you may want to reconsider this advice and start paying attention to the little aggravations and annoyances that your students are experiencing, because we have seen that these can indeed make an impact on students’ larger perceptions of your institution. Sometimes, small details truly do matter.
First, let’s look at the big picture.
Over the past 20-plus years, we have studied our National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Reports and consistently seen that a high priority area for improvement for students at four-year private and public institutions is: “Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.”
|Students attending four-year private institutions||Students attending four-year public institutions|
|Importance to me||88%||86%|
|My satisfaction level||45%||52%|
Source: 2015-2016 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, www.RuffaloNL.com/SatisfactionBenchmarks
The chart above reflects the percentage of students who indicate that this statement is important or very important to them as well as the percentage that say they are satisfied or very satisfied, as measured on our Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI). The performance gap is the difference between these two numbers. For your reference, in the range of scores at four-year privates, the tuition-is-worth-it statement is eighth in rank order of importance (out of 73 items), but with satisfaction scores that can get as high as 72 percent in the national data, you can see that there is definitely room for improvement here. Similarly, at four-year publics, this statement is again eighth in rank order of importance, and satisfaction scores can range up to 69 percent, so again, improvements can be made at four-year publics as well. (As a side note: Students at two-year community colleges, where tuition amounts are often much lower, score this item higher, with importance at 90 percent and satisfaction at 69 percent.)
When consulting with colleges about their satisfaction scores, I used to recommend that institutions respond to this issue by working to improve students’ perceptions of the value of their education. This included suggestions such as telling students more about job placement rates and other outcomes after graduation, like the success of college alumni. I still believe these are important messages, especially while you are recruiting new students. It is also a good idea to continue to emphasize these messages with enrolled students. But sometimes, if an individual student doesn’t inherently value what you have to offer, it can be difficult to truly change their perception in this area.
In a series of studies over the last few years, Ruffalo Noel Levitz has documented the link between student satisfaction and several key institutional metrics:
Most of you at four-year institutions have begun your fall term, or will begin soon, and have welcomed your new class, the class of 2020. But are they really? Some of them will be the class of 2020 and others will be the class of 2021 and a few more will be part of the class of 2022. If you’re reading this, then you’re most likely looking for some ideas for your campus to implement in your retention and completion planning. Here are three tips for you to consider.
First, please know what “normal” retention and completion rates are for your school type. I’ll give you an example but if you don’t know what your type is then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will define your type. This is the first critical step.
Here’s the example. Let’s assume you are a traditionally admitting school, which means your middle ACT composite range is about 18-24 and your SAT middle score range (all three tests) is about 1290-1650. Also, you are a public institution with a Carnegie Classification of baccalaureate offerings only. If this is you, then your retention rate on average should be about 70 percent and your five-year graduation rate should be around 38 percent.
If the national average for your school type is 70 percent and your campus has set a first-year retention rate goal of 80 percent then you may have a harder time achieving your goal unless you invest in aggressive strategy implementation.
Second, now that you know what is normal, you’ll need to assess what is actual. I always find this to be the most interesting part of the analysis. Recently, I made my first visit to one of the institutions I work with. I met with the Cabinet and they described their vision to have a 60 percent, six-year graduation rate. I asked them what data they had used to establish this vision and the answer was a list of schools they wanted to be like – their aspirant list. I think most schools have either competitor or aspirant lists or both. Anyway, my first question was this: What is your normal persistence and completion pattern? I saw some glances around the room and then asked them to track their 2007-14 cohorts, term-by-term, six years out, so we could see what really happens. The chart below is what really happened.
Recent data released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation indicate that adult learners―students who are 22 years of age or older in this case―make up 47 percent of the students currently enrolled in higher education. But what do we know about these students, how they perceive their educational experiences, and what they think are priorities for improvement?
The recently released 2015-16 National Adult Learners Satisfaction-Priorities Report provides an overview of the areas adult learners believe are important and their corresponding satisfaction levels with each area. The data are from 32,000 adult learners who completed the Adult Learner Inventory™ at 100 four-year and two-year institutions across the country between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2015.
In general, adult learners show high levels of satisfaction, with 71 percent of adult learners at four-year institutions and 72 percent at community colleges indicating they are satisfied or very satisfied overall. Their likelihood to recommend their institution is even higher: 75 percent at four-year institutions and 78 percent at two-year institutions. While these figures are generally positive, they may not tell the whole story. There are still areas where higher education can be better serving adult learners in order to improve retention and help these students reach their educational goals.
The new national report identifies a variety of areas where institutions have room for improvement as well as areas where institutions are currently doing well. Let’s take a closer look at the Life and Career Planning cluster of items. This group of survey items assesses how well an institution addresses adult learners’ life and career goals at the onset of enrollment. The data from this cluster help an institution assess and align its capacities to help learners reach their goals.
The items in the Life and Career Planning cluster, shown below, have the largest performance gaps (the difference between the importance and satisfaction scores) for both four-year and two-year institutions, and the most room for improvement based on perceptions of adult learners:
Items of high importance and high satisfaction are considered strengths and are identified in green; items of high importance and low satisfaction or large performance gaps are highlighted in red and are considered challenges.
Fall 2016 is drawing near, and many colleges and universities are now preparing to meet their newest students and planning summer orientation programs, but my question is: how well do you really know the incoming class? Often, the programming at orientation is a reflection of what the institution has learned about its incoming class through the admissions process—high school academic profiles, SAT/ACT scores, intended majors, instate/out-of-state status, athletic intentions, etc. But these data only give institutions a limited perspective on what their entering students will need in order to be successful—and graduate—from their first college or university.
What’s missing? What’s missing is what I like to call “the rest of the story”: the easy-to-gather data and information on noncognitive, motivational variables that each individual student brings to college that directly influence the student’s likelihood of persisting—and graduating (or not)—from the institution. Think of it as the currents that operate below the surface of the ocean—pulling students toward staying or leaving.
Example: here’s a typical incoming student that everyone thinks they already know
To illustrate the missing information, I’d like you to consider the example of “Sarah” (her name has been changed, but she’s a student we will all recognize). Sarah is enrolling as a first-year student at an institution close to her home. She has a 3.4 high school GPA—which wouldn’t put her on anybody’s radar as “at risk” of finishing college. However, Sarah just completed the early-alert College Student Inventory (CSI) which measures her motivation and receptivity to assistance. What we learn from Sarah’s CSI results is quite revealing—in key areas, her academic motivation is quite low:
Last evening, I had the privilege of attending an adult learner “PHT Awards Ceremony” at my former institution. PHT stands for “Putting Him/Her Through.” It’s an opportunity for graduating adult learners to thank those who helped “put them through.” As each student came forward, shared their stories, and thanked the mothers/fathers, wives/husbands, children, faculty, and staff who made the difference in their successes, three themes emerged: courage, sacrifice, and gratitude.
These students had the courage to commit to earning a college degree while raising families, working part and full time, and facing their fears of whether or not they could be successful. They all shared a willingness to sacrifice—time with family, financial resources, and sleep—in order to realize their goal of earning a degree. And, finally, they expressed gratitude for the support they received from their families, but just as significantly the support they received from the faculty and staff at this institution and the resources that were readily available for their use.
Their personal stories reminded me that over 20 years ago, my first experience working with students in higher education was with adult learners: I was asked by my college’s president to take on the marketing and expansion of a Prime Time program for adult learners. In this new role, my first step was to meet currently enrolled Prime Time students and get to know them. What I learned was both inspiring and concerning.
What inspired me was the students’ uniform dedication to earning a college degree (finally!) at this time in their lives and their willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to reach that goal. What concerned me was that, for many of these students, there was a critical need for additional assistance (academic, financial, personal) that had to be addressed in order for the student to persist and succeed.
Our new report Motivation of Adult Learners for Completing a College Degree (just published in March 2016) affirms that the critical issues of first-year adult learners are still the same as I observed years ago. These students are overwhelmingly committed to achieving the goal of earning a degree and, at the same time, expressing very specific needs and requests for assistance that must be addressed in order for them to succeed.
Let’s first take a look at the study’s findings showing adult learners’ high commitment to completing a degree, based on responses from over 5,000 first-year adult learners at the beginning of their studies in 2014 and 2015:
The strength of this commitment is remarkable, yet we know that motivation changes over time and that adult students may be just as vulnerable to forces of attrition as traditional-aged students. Attending to the areas in which adult learners are needing assistance, and ensuring that these students are connected with resources that meet these needs, will help more adults earn their college degrees in a timely manner.
Areas of need