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.
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.
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:
The 2015-16 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report was released last week with its annual review of how satisfied students are and what areas are of top importance to them. This year’s report summarizes the findings of more than 578,000 students who completed the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) at 711 four-year private and public institutions, as well as community colleges and career schools across the country between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2015.
As you may be aware, the SSI asks students to indicate both a level of importance and a level of satisfaction with a variety of institutional experiences. The combination of importance and satisfaction scores provides an opportunity to identify institutional strengths (items of high importance and high satisfaction) as well as institutional challenges (items of high importance and low satisfaction).
Four priority issues emerged for students in this year’s results:
In the full report, you can see the results that led to these conclusions for all four institution types. Let’s take a closer look at the student perceptions of academic advising across the institutional types.
The scores in the table above reflect the percentage of students who indicated that the item was important or very important to them and whether they were satisfied or very satisfied in this area. The gap score is the importance score minus the satisfaction score. The scores in green reflect items of strength while the scores in red are challenge areas. The scores in grey indicate that the item was neither a strength nor a challenge. (Please note that the strengths and challenges are relative to the institution type. What may be a strength or a challenge for one institution type may not be a strength or challenge for another, even if the importance, satisfaction and gap scores are identical.)
What do these national results mean? Because advising matters so much to students on the national level, you may want to consider reviewing your own advising services to be sure they are student-centered and adequately supporting the needs of your students.
Campuses can review their academic advising services and make adjustments, such as:
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.
What makes a college student retention program exceptional?
That is a question that the Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards tackle every year. This program honors exceptional college student retention programs from around the country, recognizing the most innovative and effective programs that have helped more students persist, succeed, and complete their educational goals. More than 160 institutions have been honored since the awards began in 1989, and the winners include campuses of every size, type, and mission: four-year privates, four-year publics, and community, junior, and technical colleges.
The three most recent winners serve as models for institutional leaders who would like to develop and fine-tune programs as diverse as recruit back and reverse transfer, strategic retention planning, and developmental math and English success rates.
You can hear how these institutions launched, nurtured, and grew these initiatives into effective retention programs by listening to the webinar spotlighting these three institutions:
In this recording, each winner provides an overview of their program and results, sharing insightful first-hand nuggets for developing or enhancing similar programs.
I also encourage you to download the Compendium of Retention Excellence Award Winners 1989-2015. The Compendium details each winner’s strategies and outcomes, and is indexed by institution type.
Do you have a successful retention program you would like to share? Apply for a 2016 Retention Excellence Award. Applications are now being accepted until March 18. If chosen, your institution will be honored at an award ceremony during the 2016 Ruffalo Noel Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment Marketing and Retention, July 26-28, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. Sharing your story will help inspire other institutions as they work to improve college student retention and completion.
If you have any questions about the awards and application process, or would like to discuss evaluating and strengthening your own student retention initiatives, please email me.
I’ve talked with a number of colleagues on college campuses this week and they are all focused now on helping their first-year students transition to the second semester. On many campuses, a primary vehicle for this support in the fall term is the first-year seminar—most of which concluded at the end of the first semester. But what structures and support for student success are available once those first-semester courses and programs end?
Data collected from institutions that administer first-year student assessments from Ruffalo Noel Levitz (College Student Inventory, a pre-test, and the Mid-Year Student Assessment, a post-test) show the top five areas in which students had requests for assistance as they entered their institutions and the extent to which assistance was provided during term one:
These data from a recent report, Changes in Freshman Attitudes Following a Semester of Classes and Interventions, reveal that students’ motivational needs persist over time and are multi-faceted. The most substantial gaps between requests and assistance provided were in three areas that spanned all three sectors: financial guidance, career services, and academic support.
These data from the first-year experience indicate the need for structured, targeted support services extended through the second semester. If your freshman seminar has ended, how will you provide this structure of support? And what data will you have available to identify at-risk students and design the most relevant programs and services to address your students’ changing needs in the second term?
My colleague, Tim Culver, wrote about this in a previous blog that I encourage you to read or re-read. The blog emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the P+P=R formula…progression + persistence = retention.
Student attrition continues beyond the first term
Above, data from the 2015 Student Retention Indicators Benchmark Report show that attrition continues beyond the first semester. This means colleges and universities must develop strategies that support student success beyond the first term, encompassing the entire first-year experience.
How to respond?
In the last several months, I have had the opportunity to attend several national and state private post-secondary school conferences. The participating schools were looking for ways to improve enrolling, retaining, and preparing students for their chosen careers in light of the new Gainful Employment rules, which took effect on July 1.The use of technology and the processes that enhance the nature of the technology were a focus of many of the conference sessions.
Technology supporting retention management is often handled in-house through institution-developed dashboards and a combination of platforms that support a proactive approach to identifying student retention issues. This approach enables school personnel to work with the needs of individual students.
However, in many instances higher education institutions grow far faster than one student information system can handle. In their quest to solve student retention management issues, institutions have built their own platforms, or purchased software that does not properly integrate with their needs and ultimately does not give them the information to work strategically in their approach to student and graduate success. To successfully develop student success platforms, it is important to understand the staff and student interactions with the technology.
In conversations with many of the schools that have developed their own student retention management platforms, they identify the importance of staffing and processes to support the technology.
One important question comes to mind as we look at the software supporting retention management tools: who is developing the software? Although it is important to have a technology background, accessing the correct information and how it interfaces with the staff are also important elements of the development.
I have discovered that many of the individuals championing the charge for retention management software development have a student advising or student development background with some interest or background in technology. In my observation, the most common trait among these individuals is their passion for student success, and again it is clear the use of technology is a tool to leverage student success and graduate outcomes.
One of the main suggestions in developing software to address student retention is to understand your institution’s definition of student success:
Many times the data associated with student success are stored in multiple areas and not accessible to the members of the institution who can impact student success and graduate outcomes. Taking a holistic approach involves the inclusion of various team members, students, and technology, and the interactions between these components needs to be seamless in order to be successful.
It is important in the development of student retention software to understand the gaps and the best ways to provide the users the access and resources they need in order to be successful. Access to student retention data is critical to making strategic retention planning decisions, student interventions, and connecting students to individual resources they need for success. That’s something that retention systems such as the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) and College Student Inventory (CSI) do. They not only help institutions capture the information they need in order to improve student retention and graduation rates, but make that data accessible and actionable. Having the proper surveys and student success tools can lead to valuable initiatives in developing a student success course and understanding the barriers associated with under-employed graduates.
Among the sessions I attended this summer, one discussed a fragmented approach versus a holistic approach to supporting student success. Taking a holistic approach to student retention management has many nuances and it is important that the executive leadership of your institution supports the leveraging of technology to improve student success. Additionally you need to identify the selection and development of a team, resources, and data points in order to represent all student needs. Remember, data does nothing unless it is used, and it cannot be used if it cannot be accessed.
You can also find useful benchmarks for retention practices in our 2015 report. It provides a great starting point for seeing what campuses are doing in terms of student retention technology and data.
Do you have any questions or ideas about using technology to support retention? Email me and let me know, or leave a comment below.
Co-written with Kathy Kurz
Kathy Kurz served as vice president of Scannell & Kurz before her retirement. She has extensive experience in retention programs and strategic financial aid, and served at the University of Rochester and Earlham College.
Although you are at the very beginning of a new school year, we suspect many of you are already thinking about retention, especially if fewer students returned than anticipated. But for many campuses, it’s not clear who should be the one leading that thinking.
Time and again during the course of retention best practice reviews, we find that the institution has not appointed a retention “champion.” Numerous individuals from enrollment, student affairs, and academic leadership may be working on various aspects of retention, and there may even be a retention committee or task force, but there is no clear, integrated vision for retention strategies informed by data. In this scenario, because retention is everyone’s responsibility, in effect it becomes no one’s responsibility.
A concerted effort from all parts of the institution is needed for a successful retention program, but because we all know what happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, assigning a retention champion is critical to keeping the community focused on the most impactful retention efforts. Typically this champion would also have supervisory responsibility for those areas that are most critical to retention outcomes at the institution. For example, at many institutions, academic success is critical to persistence. Consequently, the retention champion should have supervisory responsibility for all academic support services.
It is also critical that the champion be able to command the respect of both student life professionals and faculty while working toward greater collaboration between these two areas. Often the retention champion reports directly to the president or jointly to the president and provost as a clear signal of the centrality and cross-divisional nature of this work. The champion need not be responsible only for retention (depending on the size of the institution), but if also overseeing other initiatives, must be able to ensure a balanced effort.
Finally, the retention champion must not only provide organizational leadership, but should also be responsible for ensuring retention initiatives are founded in data analysis. Ideally, institutional data—grades, advising, housing, exit interviews, etc.—are combined with external data—National Student Clearinghouse, for example—to “triangulate” solutions. Even when institutions do conduct robust analyses on retention data, this work is episodic rather than sustained, making it difficult to identify trends. And if institutions take the next step to act on the findings, many do not rigorously analyze the impact that these programs have had on persistence to determine whether the investments represent the most effective use of institutional resources. Assigning clear responsibility increases the likelihood that these activities will occur.
Once your campus has that champion, how can you support him or her? These seven strategies have worked for many campuses, and hopefully will provide some food for thought and discussion about not only what you should be doing to increase persistence, but about the responsibilities of your retention champion.
While these are strategies that have worked well for campuses, finding your champion and implementing strategies like these can be difficult. If you wonder how you can unify your campus toward purposeful change for student success, email me and I would be happy to set up a time to discuss retention strategies. I can help you figure out how to transform retention from something many people talk about into a strategic process that guides more of your hard-earned students to graduation.
Recently we released the 2015 Student Retention and College Completion Practices Benchmark Report. For those of you who contributed to these ratings, thank you. For those thinking about contributing in the future, we are always open to hearing what you think should be asked in the poll. We try to think of everything but understand there are always ideas you have which aren’t included. Send them our way please.
You will see six highlights on page one of the report which describe the information you told us. These highlights include effective practices for student success and retention management, the influence of performance-based funding, graduation rate trends, and, finally, your assessment of your written retention plans.
Why are so many retention plans inadequate?
How you assessed the quality of your current retention plan is what I’d like to talk about today. These findings appear on page seven of the report:
In addition, the quality of the retention committee (not shown here) had similarly low ratings, with just 58.2 percent, 43.6 percent, and 31.2 percent of respondents from the three sectors rating their committee’s quality good or excellent.
What might this really mean? Do these low ratings have something to do with another item which was asked on the poll? Respondents whose institutions had a retention committee were asked to choose the best response from the three options below to describe the committee’s role: (You can see the results on pages 16, 24, and 32.)
The third choice had the highest agreement percentage across all sectors (four-year private, four-year public, and two-year public). The second choice had the next-highest agreement percentage while the first choice had the lowest agreement among respondents across all sectors. It appears that nearly 58 percent of four-year private committees, 49 percent of four-year public committees, and 61 percent of two-year public committees simply meet to share information.
Seven ideas for strengthening your committee
In view of the above findings, here are seven ideas which might help you move more of your committee’s role toward making recommendations rather than just sharing information:
− Defining the current state
− Defining the desired state (set goals)
− Selecting the strategies
− Developing an action plan for each strategy
− Developing methods to measure the effectiveness of each strategy
− Evaluating progress to modify or institutionalize
I remember when I first formed a retention committee years ago. It was difficult to get movement because we were all trying to be respectful of our organization’s chart boxes. Sometimes we have to agree that for a total student success effort to be fruitful we are going to have to be able to trust each other in the process. This process is more important than the product. If the process is broken then the product will be too.
What else keeps a committee from being successful and thriving?
I encourage you to add your ideas for making student success and retention committees unique and of very high quality. Post them in the comments below or send me an email. While every situation has unique challenges, we can always learn from each other by sharing our ideas and experiences.