Want to strengthen your student retention strategies?
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.
Last year, the student success coordinator at a client institution of mine shared a story that may be familiar to those who lead the efforts to improve student retention and graduation rates on your own campuses.
A faculty member was nonplussed when the most recent freshman cohort retention figures showed that first-to-second-year retention had improved by about 2 percentage points. A “what’s the big deal” comment was followed by “is it even statistically significant?” After hearing this story, I suggested to the student success coordinator that if her colleague doesn’t see improved student success as good news for both students and the institution serving them, than an appeal to her colleague’s understanding of the bottom line might be convincing.
In this case, net revenue per freshman was about $15,000/year, and a 2 percentage point increase in retention rate translated to 12 additional students persisting to sophomore year. That’s $180,000 in additional net revenue in the second year, not counting room revenue. Using average persistence rates to junior year, 10 would still be enrolled, and eventually 9 students would persist to senior year. That equates to $150,000 and $135,000 in years three and four. In total, the 2 percentage point improvement in retention was likely to result in about $465,000 additional net revenue over a three-year period for the first cohort alone, not counting the additional revenue gained from each subsequent cohort cycle. For small, tuition-dependent institutions, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
At the same institution, the institutional research officer was interested in gaining a better understanding of the internal migration patterns of students who change majors, especially those who began as biology majors. They were seeking to answer not only the question of whether students in a particular major were leaving the institution at higher rates than other majors, but also whether they were remaining as science majors or migrating to majors within another academic division. This need for additional data aligned nicely with the fact that an intentional by-product of our retention predictive modeling and best-practice review is to encourage our clients to do a better job of tracking retention by various subpopulations. To that end, we provide reports to demonstrate movement among majors over time. In this instance, a custom report was designed that the IR director could then replicate internally. This provided the institution with valuable data for planning as they sought to identify majors that, even though initial demand (first-time majors) may not have been strong, showed enrollment increases over time as a result of internal transfers. The financial consequences of enrollments by major would not have been obvious from looking exclusively at initial enrollment data.
This is the second part of a two-part article featuring 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. Read the first part of the article here or download the original white paper.
Those of us who have been working in this field of student retention almost from the very beginning have learned a great deal. The main thing we have learned is that institutions must deliberately establish a plan to increase student retention. Retention does not just happen. Retention is something we can control. We have learned that this control comes when we put students squarely at the center of a campus. That is what it is all about today at the undergraduate level—thinking about students, understanding students, listening to students, figuring out who is in the classrooms, who is on the campuses. If an institution has residence halls, it needs to ask who is living in those residence halls. We need to move with students, learn with students, understand them and help them succeed. Institutions that put this kind of personal effort into effect can, in fact, experience a tremendous degree of student and institutional success. Retention improvement proceeds on two planes simultaneously—campuswide for all students and directly with individual students.
This necessarily requires a greater emphasis on assessment. Assessment helps us predict dropout-proneness before the student drops out, academic difficulty before it occurs, and educational stress before the student experiences it. It also helps us determine an incoming student’s receptivity to institutional help so we can leverage our time by intervening intensively with students who are likely to respond.
This approach is perhaps best termed “progressive responsibility.” It does not encourage everyone on campus to “hold students’ hands forever,” which is often the faculty’s greatest fear. However, it does advocate additional support to help students get off to a strong start. What it tries to do is provide “stepping stone” approaches so students get the support they need when they enter, thus securing a solid foundation from which to progress to greater degrees of responsibility and independence until they are able to stand independently.
This is the first part of a two-part article featuring 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. Read the second part of the article here or download the original white paper.
“The success of an institution and the success of its students are inseparable.” If you take this credo seriously, you commit your institution—and every individual in it, from the president to faculty members to support staff—to a path of radical and permanent change.
Why embark on such a course? As budgets tighten, as pools of potential students shrink, as competition for resources of all kinds increase, as regents, legislators, taxpayers, and prospective students and their families take up the cry for institutional accountability, colleges and universities that put students first will thrive just as their students will.
If this sounds daunting, don’t be misled. For nearly every institution, substantial gains in retention are possible if managed properly. On the other hand, improvement in retention does not happen without careful thought and considerable energy. Successful retention management involves “distance philosophy” which assumes that the main purpose of education and, therefore, the main business of the institution, is to change people’s lives. When administrators, faculty, and staff fully appreciate the need to retain students, it will show in their attitude toward students. Students will no longer be impositions on our work. Students will be the purpose of our work.
As a result, daily interactions will be less mechanical. Relationships between students and faculty, staff and administrators, will develop naturally. And this camaraderie among members of the campus community will demonstrate itself through loyalty to the institution. When students learn and feel successful on campus, they stay.
In contrast, whereas moderately dissatisfied students may remain on campus, these students certainly will not recommend that their acquaintances attend the same institution. This can have a far-reaching impact on enrollments since most institutions recruit new students from the same high schools, neighborhoods, and work places each year. What’s more, if students become substantially dissatisfied, they’ll simply leave the institution to explore “greener pastures.”
On the other hand, the student who is experiencing the right combination of support and independence at college will appear more personally developed and will feel more satisfied. This noticeable growth, in and of itself, will be a statement about the institution’s quality of programs and services. The student’s excitement about these aspects as he or she discusses them with friends and family are an added bonus. The extent to which current students leave campus feeling satisfied and excited about what they have experienced on campus helps determine the ease with which the institution is able to recruit in those areas in subsequent visits and subsequent years.
Those of us who have been working in this field almost from the very beginning have learned a great deal. The main thing we have learned is that institutions must deliberately establish a plan to increase student retention. Retention does not just happen. Retention is something we can control.
For more information and insights
Come to Chicago, July 8-10, 2014, for the Noel-Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention, where you can choose from presentations such as:
The rising cost of college attendance has made students more critical of attending postsecondary institutions. While a college degree is still valued, spiraling costs have triggered emphatic discussions about student debt and the actual worth of a college degree. This critical eye has perhaps impacted the private postsecondary sector the most. I think Fred Lockhart of the Arizona Private School Association (APSA) put it best when he told me that students entering private post-secondary schools want the best education in the least amount of time with the biggest return on investment.
The demographics of the students in this sector have also changed, especially the growth of adult/nontraditional learners who tend to be more purpose driven. Students in the private postsecondary sector also face critical issues impacting student retention, including academic preparedness, a student’s financial wherewithal, student communication, relationship building, tracking and documenting student interactions, and graduate outcomes.
Thankfully, the schools in this sector have a great deal of support through state and national association memberships. The Association of Private Sector Schools and Universities (APSCU) and private postsecondary state associations feel strongly that school leadership needs to embrace a culture of caring and giving, and leaders need resources to make informed decisions. The associations also provide educational training and resources to their member schools. The national and state organizations act as resources for member institutions on public policy related to the sector and provide support for workforce development that will ultimately affect the students they serve. They also provide training at conferences, webinars, and online teaching modules for instructors that address the diverse learning styles in the classroom.
Still, it is important to know your students, and schools that demonstrate caring and giving to the individual needs of the students have more successful retention and graduate outcomes. Administrators and instructors need to be aware of the students’ academic preparedness, learning styles, and student engagement in order to affect student success. In particular, there are three ways campuses can reach out to students, alleviate barriers and stress, and convince them to remain enrolled and on the path to educational completion.
We are nearing the end of the first semester, or quarter semester, and you may be wondering…. Have your students received the resources they needed and wanted during their first semester? How can you ensure that they have been made aware of the tools they need to be successful during their freshman year and beyond?
Assessing freshman students early in their first term allows for proactive interventions, but first-year students can also undergo significant changes in attitudes, outlook, and motivations during that first term. A mid-year follow-up assessment allows for future planning of outreach and focused activities at the end of the first term and into the spring period.
By assessing students at the mid-year, you can identify the areas where students say they need assistance and specific resources that they want to learn more about—such as getting involved on campus, assistance with writing, and getting connected to a tutor. You can also determine students’ plans to transfer at the mid-year and perhaps take steps to retain them.
After visiting hundreds of campuses over the course of my consulting career, it always surprises me how many campus leaders don’t think of student retention as a primary driver of their enrollment success. Many times I have had people say they are interested in both enrollment and retention, as if they are two separate things. When you think about it, retaining your students until graduation or completion is likely the most impactful driver of your overall enrollment success, not to mention a financial boon to your institution (as it costs more to recruit a new student than retain a current one). In addition, retaining your students and helping them to achieve success is perhaps your strongest marketing message to communicate the value of your educational programs.
As you know, college student retention isn’t simply about retaining first-time, full-time freshmen. It’s about ensuring that all students are continually making progress towards their educational goals and persisting until completion and/or graduation. The way students successfully matriculate through their educational programs has significant impact on the overall enrollment health of your institution.
When I talk with campuses about why they assess student satisfaction, I often hear three primary reasons: 1) retention efforts; 2) strategic planning; and 3) accreditation requirements. Today, I want to share some thoughts with you on how to best utilize your satisfaction assessment results with a retention emphasis. These suggestions can apply if you are using the Noel-Levitz Satisfaction-Priorities Surveys or your own homegrown instrument.
In a 2009 study, Dr. Laurie Schreiner documented the link between student satisfaction and retention, reporting that satisfaction accounts for 17 percent of the variation in retention. This is the largest indicator behind unknown factors which account for 75 percent of the variance. (Institutional features and demographic characteristics account for less than 4 percent each.) This study is specific to four-year private and public institutions—we are currently conducting a similar study for two-year community colleges—but it’s clear that there is a strong relationship between how satisfied students are and their persistence.
So how can campuses use student satisfaction data to make a positive impact on student retention? I have four suggestions that have worked for many campuses using the Noel-Levitz surveys:
The Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) has a series of items focusing on how students FEEL about being on campus. We cluster these items into a Campus Climate scale, which includes items such as:
As reflected in Dr. Schreiner’s study, Campus Climate items are strongly correlated with overall student satisfaction and retention.