Earlier this year, I wrote about why we need to hear about college retention programs that are working. I shared that we have the opportunity to learn from the excellent retention programs that are making a difference in student success across the county. Part of my intention in writing that blog was to encourage institutions to apply for the 2015 Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards (REAs). More than 165 colleges and universities have received this award since the REAs began in 1989, and I am excited to share the three institutions (and their retention programs) that are joining this prestigious list in 2015:
- University of Central Oklahoma: Operation Degree Completion
- Edgewood College: Strategic Retention Plan
- Grand Rapids Community College: FastTrack
A common theme among these programs is the importance of innovation in retention.
University of Central Oklahoma helps students and former students become alumni
The Operation Degree Completion program at the University of Central Oklahoma has two steps. The first step is to track down students who have disappeared from campus even after completing almost all of the requirements to graduate and then guide them to graduation. The solution could be changing a major to a more general degree, or taking just one more course, or simply applying for graduation. The full-time advisor for the program knows a little about re-admissions and financial aid and a lot about persistence!
The second step builds on reverse transfer trends by identifying transfer students who have enough credits to receive an associate’s degree from the originating community college. Unofficial transcripts are provided to the community college for each eligible student, and a degree check is run by the community college adviser. Students are then contacted and informed of their new degrees. How innovative is it to improve institutional graduation rates with students who have already achieved (or almost achieved) the requirements and simply don’t know it? Can you imagine how thrilled these students must be?
Result: Since the inception of Operation Degree Completion, the university has awarded 270 bachelor’s degrees, exceeding its goal one year early, and is on track to facilitate more than 2,000 associate degrees. In addition, the program generated an additional 10,651 credit hours due to students returning to complete their degrees. This represents $1.7 million in additional tuition revenue.
Edgewood College’s institutional culture improves retention and graduation
Edgewood College’s Strategic Retention Plan is a multiyear, collegewide project. The Strategic Retention Plan guides efforts to puts students and their success at the heart of what the college does. One initial step of the plan was to establish a group of faculty, staff, and students to research and make recommendations to strengthen the first-year experience. Action steps included establishing a common reading program, expanding the first-year seminar to a three-credit academically-oriented class, expanding the early alert program, and revising the academic advising infrastructure.
Once Edgewood College experienced success with first-year students, they turned their attention to second-year students. Activities included a “sophomore summit” to share research findings, the development of a “welcome to the academic department” program, and a more comprehensive approach to working with students who have not yet declared a major. Edgewood’s Strategic Retention Plan objectives are reviewed annually and action steps are updated quarterly by the retention council. While many of these initiatives are commonly recognized best practices, Edgewood’s comprehensive approach has been innovative and successful in improving student success.
Result: Since committing to this approach, retention for first-year students has steadily increased from a low of 66 percent in 2005 to a high of 82 percent in 2012. Four-year graduation has increased from 27 percent in 2005 to 40 percent in 2014. Five-year graduation has increased from 48 percent in 2005 to 55 percent in 2014. In addition, students indicate higher levels of engagement and satisfaction, and alumni continue to report strong employment and graduate school placement rates.
Grand Rapids Community College develops a program to help students bypass developmental education
Supported by a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant, Grand Rapids Community College created FastTrack–a program to help students bypass developmental education with an emphasis on retention and completion. FastTrack is an intensive three-week, 14-hour-per-week learning lab in which students remediate academic skills through a combination of web-based and tutor-guided activities. There are specific labs for reading, English, and math. The purpose of the program is to give developmental students an opportunity to accelerate skill building so they are able to bypass developmental course work and move directly into college-level courses. Eligible students are referred to FastTrack after they complete their placement tests, and students who choose to participate must accept the requirements to participate in the program (including completing a mandatory student success plan with an advisor and working with a college success coach).
FastTrack is free for qualifying students. Once they complete the program, they are eligible to retake the placement exam for the subject they remediated. This is an innovative approach that avoids students getting slowed down in a semester-long developmental class and gets them into college-level classes sooner and more successfully.
Result: Since FastTrack’s implementation in 2012, 837 students have been recruited for the program and 651 students successfully completed the three-week program. Of those 651 students, 449 were successful in their retake of the placement test and were able to avoid one or more developmental education courses. FastTrack participation saved a total of $324,000 worth of in-district tuition, fees, and books for students, as well as a total of 33,480 hours of instruction for students who bypassed their placement.
Read about retention innovations and successful programs from past Retention Excellence Award winners
This year’s winners will receive their awards and share their stories during the Ruffalo Noel Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in Boston July 8-10. If you are not able to join us in Boston this year, you will also have a chance to learn more about these innovative programs during a free webinar on Tuesday, September 29. You can register for this event now. I also invite you to download the PDF of the Compendium of Successful, Innovative Retention Programs and Practices, which provide descriptions of the programs that have been recognized from 1989-2014 (we will be adding this year’s winners to that compendium after they receive their awards).
What are you doing to improve student success on your campus? Consider sharing your approach with us by applying for next year’s Retention Excellence Awards. The application will be available in March 2016. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have questions about successful retention practices in general.