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.
Many in higher education are zeroing in on improving college completion rates among transfer students—a growing undergraduate subpopulation on campuses of all types. Yet data from our latest research study shown above indicate that retention programming for transfer students lags behind when compared with first-year student retention programs.
For example, 44 percent of the four-year private institution respondents in the study rated their first-year student programs “very effective” on a rating scale that used a four-part scale: “very effective,” “somewhat effective,” “minimally effective,” and “method not used.” Yet just 15 percent of these same respondents rated their transfer student programs “very effective.” Respondents from four-year public institutions and two-year public institutions also gave lower ratings to transfer student programs.
Imagine your retention situation to be like a baseball game. It’s the bottom of the ninth, your team is up 5 to 2, the other team is batting, you have two outs, and there are three runners on base. Your worst nightmare is at the plate and you’re called up from the bullpen to stop disaster from striking. It’s also your first appearance in the big leagues. Yes, you’re a rookie.
What will you do? And how do you keep your cool?
No fear, I have some words of advice for you since I know how you feel. I was once a student retention rookie, and I wish someone then had told me five things I should or shouldn’t do. That did not happen. Like many of you, I was tagged to be “the one”—to be the retention leader on campus and to come up with something that was going to make our student success rates better. I was afraid of striking out and threw too many wild pitches, too. I had so many full counts with runners on base that it was pathetic. A tear comes to my face as I dreamed about hitting a home run. But early on the pop flies were abundant and I had to punt so many times (wait, that’s another analogy!)…. You get the idea.
However, if I could go back to my rookie self and offer five pieces of advice, they would be:
One of my campus partners copied me on an e-mail recently that reminded me why I so enjoy being a retention consultant for Noel-Levitz. The e-mail consisted of a 2011 fall cohort enrollment update. In mid-June this college’s retention director was providing an update to the goal for the fall 2011 cohort’s retention rate: about 17 percent of the fall 2011 cohort was not enrolled for the fall 2012 term. Also, she could account for those who were not enrolled—the list correlated highly with students who had been under review through this college’s early-alert system. Even better, the anticipated retention rate of more than 82 percent is significantly ahead of the retention goal for the cohort. This retention director also explained how much “melt” (the number of enrolled students who might withdraw) could occur and still have the cohort meet goal.
In a 102-word e-mail, this retention director encapsulated so many best practices that I had to share them in this blog. Let me tell you what I see from a chronological perspective. First, this college had a clearly documented retention goal for this particular cohort (I should note that this goal had been revised up a year earlier based on the performance of the previous cohort). The campus leaders who were the primary recipients of this e-mail knew the goal and had charged the retention director to mobilize the campus to meet the goal. She was also empowered to bring key campus constituents together to do the work. Clearly the president and cabinet had provided a strong foundation.
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.”
The 2011 Student Retention Practices and Strategies Report indicates that while a large percentage of four-year public, four-year private, and two-year institutions are using satisfaction assessments to make changes to minimize attrition, a smaller percentage of these institutions feel that they are effective with actively using the data.
The struggle to effectively utilize the data on campuses is not uncommon. I have worked with institutions that are very diligent about surveying annually or every other year but do not use their assessment data as effectively as they would like. Furthermore, we have found that satisfaction actually may go down if you keep asking how satisfied students are but do nothing to respond to their feedback. “Data on the shelf” (or on your computer) have no power. The power comes when you use data to make improvements.
I have advised institutions of all types that they are more likely to be effective in using their satisfaction assessment results for improvement if they:
My colleagues and I at Noel-Levitz are continuously working to assist institutions with using their results for campus improvement. This involves transitioning from simply gathering regular assessment data to a process that gathers student perspectives and uses that data to actively guide decision making and influence perceptions.
How does this process work on campus? That’s something that a pair of campus colleagues will illustrate in an upcoming Webinar, How to Assess Student Satisfaction and Priorities (Feb. 23).
Dr. Martha Nelson, associate vice president of academic affairs at Dominican University of California, and Dr. Samuel Hirsch, vice president for student affairs at Community College of Philadelphia, will share how satisfaction assessment has become a systematic activity to document student experiences for their institutions, identify issues for improvement, and identify actions that improve student satisfaction. A key element for both institutions has been the ability to monitor trends over time in order to document increases in student satisfaction as a result of their activities. They have also found the data to be beneficial for their accreditation requirements. The Community College of Philadelphia incorporates their satisfaction scores into their key performance indicators as part of their enrollment management plan. Dominican University produces detailed charts and graphs to report the results to their campus constituencies. Both campuses can cite specific enhancements they have made to their processes and procedures to better serve their students in high priority areas.
If you want to learn how to turn satisfaction data in to action plans that create a stronger student experience, I really encourage you to join me along with Dr. Nelson and Dr. Hirsch on February 23. It’s a free Webinar and you’ll have an opportunity to ask questions. Or feel free to contact me directly to discuss opportunities for your campus.
Because I’m a retention consultant, it’s probably no surprise to most of you that the number-one set of questions I get when I consult with college faculty and staff is, “Are we doing the right things for our students?” “What are other schools like us doing?” “How do we know what’s effective?” To begin answering these questions, take a look at 2011 Student Retention Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, the latest report in our Benchmark Poll Report Series.
At first glance, there aren’t too many surprises in the report’s rankings. The standard retention strategies appear at or near the top of the lists of the most effective practices for the two-year and four-year public and private sectors. Some sectors rank effectiveness differently, but the old standbys are there. First-year experience programs, academic advising, academic support, early alert, and at-risk programming all make the list. (Please remember “at-risk” is institutionally defined and has multiple meanings to the reader.)
The report also compares effective practices across sectors on page 29, though I wouldn’t spend too much time comparing them since the environment for each sector is so different.
My colleagues and I work with many colleges and universities on student success and retention, and one thing we observe far too often is how many campuses have retention plans that are not based on data. The plans have no data driving their creation and no established metrics for tracking results. Instead, they are a collection of initiatives loosely focused on the vague task of student retention.
The problem is, student retention is not what we do. It is the outcome of what we do. Increased completion or graduation rates are the end product of a long process. Before we can even discuss increasing those rates, we should be trying to improve many other measures that will affect the end result of student completion.
That process requires planning, and good planning requires the use of solid, reliable data. When I tell that to our campus partners in the early stages of working with them, they often admit they are not sure what data they should be collecting or how to collect it properly. But by breaking down the data we need into distinct categories and then following a systematic process for incorporating those data into a plan, we can make retention planning more manageable and more tangible.
First, we need to collect data across four broad categories I call PPRC:
By examining these four areas, we can better understand an institution’s strengths and challenges as they relate to student retention.
So how do we collect this information? Usually, if a college has an Institutional Research (IR) officer, that person may have these data readily available for planners. I’m finding PPRC data aren’t usually compiled into one central database and that many faculty and staff members throughout campuses have multiple databases with corresponding activities that may or may not lead to improvements in PPRC. We first have to get our data houses in order before we can begin an effective planning approach. Consider the following steps as the planning effort unfolds:
These six steps illustrate the importance of making data the central pillar of retention planning. By analyzing data before the planning process begins, you can establish goals that will address your most pressing areas of concern and create strategies that will have the greatest impact on student success. Then, by examining metrics after the plan is in place, you can evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts and adjust your retention plan to meet the needs of your students.
If you have any questions about retention planning or the use of retention data, please leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail. I would be happy to have a conversation with you and hopefully help you add a solid data foundation to your retention efforts.