A new study of slumping motivation among last year’s sophomores has found that many respondents indeed did not feel energized by their courses and shows some of the reasons why—including relatively low satisfaction in areas such as students’ frequency of communication with advisors and the availability of work experiences associated with students’ career interests. The findings shed light on the mindsets behind the substantial dropout rate of second-year college students nationally, reported earlier this year by Noel-Levitz.
Note: This blog post was written in collaboration with Beth Richter, Ph.D., associate vice president of retention solutions for Noel-Levitz.
Those who are responsible for delivering services to college freshmen are frequently challenged to do more with less. At the same time, there is often a strong push to more fully meet the needs of first-year students. So how DO you determine which services require more or fewer resources? And on what basis are the staffing levels for these services ever “enough”?
To help with weighing the options, and to help more freshmen reach college completion, a new set of metrics is now available using Noel-Levitz’s early-alert Mid-Year Student Assessment and its accompanying 2012 Report: The Attitudes and Needs of Freshmen at Mid-Year, which aggregates the responses to the assessment from freshmen nationally. These metrics include:
- Freshman usage of campus services (academic support, career counseling, personal counseling, and financial guidance) by the end of the first term
- The percentages of freshmen requesting assistance in 24 areas and subareas at the middle of their first year vs. the beginning of their first year, including help with exam skills, creating an educational plan, and discussing attitudes toward school
These metrics, based on student surveys, can help with prioritization and retention management, and they can be especially valuable for determining differences in needs for specific groups of students (at-risk students, in-state vs. out-of-state students, nontraditional undergraduates, residential students vs. commuters, males vs. females, etc.). In addition, advisors, counselors, first-year experience instructors, and other student success professionals can use the findings to proactively identify and intervene with individual, at-risk students based on each student’s self-reported needs in each of the 24 areas examined.
What some freshmen want but aren’t getting enough of during their first term on campus
The following are examples of specific campus services that were unable to meet student demand between the start and the middle of the 2011-2012 academic year based on the self-reported survey responses of 4,000 freshmen nationally in the above-mentioned 2012 report.
The illustration above highlights findings from the 2012 National Freshman Attitudes Report, recently released by Noel-Levitz. Along with identifying needs for college freshmen as a whole, the report identifies the specific needs of subpopulations, as shown, to assist institutions with identifying and targeting appropriate educational interventions.
On most campuses, we feel as if we’re sprinting down the home stretch to the lazy days of summer. However, in terms of year to year retention, we’re still mid-way through the race.
Noel-Levitz research shows that, for both first- and second-year cohorts, more students make the decision not to return during the spring and summer months than between the fall and spring terms. Thus there is a compelling reason for extra focus and emphasis this time of year and over the summer months.
Lew Sanborne, one of our Noel-Levitz retention consultants, works with his clients now, while the students are still enrolled, to make sure that continuing students are well positioned and confident for a smooth transition back to campus in the fall. Lew and his clients typically focus on the following areas.
In 1989, Lee Noel and Randi Levitz created the Retention Excellence Awards (REA) to honor colleges and universities that had established the most successful, state-of-the art retention programs. Since the program began, 26 community colleges, 31 private four-year campuses, and 84 public four-year colleges and universities have received Retention Excellence Awards. Every year, they are honored at the National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention. As a result of this national exposure, these award-winning programs have served as models of retention excellence to stimulate the creativity and energy of hundreds of two-year and four-year institutions.
I was thinking that there are probably are common characteristics among these programs and thought it would be fun and illuminating to review them to get a sense of what makes them exceptional. Our panel of national judges uses criteria to assess the winners each year, but for my own review I used a very informal, non-scientific, non-computerized coding approach (I will call it Culver Coding) to see what came to the top. (Descriptions of all the winning programs are available in a PDF compendium at the Noel-Levitz site.)
When the dust cleared and Culver Coding was deemed successful (by Culver of course), here is what I saw. Most of these outstanding programs have three commonalities among them.
How do financial aid allocation strategies affect student retention and completion?
With funding for financial aid constrained at the federal, state, and institutional levels, interest in the answer to that question is very high. The research in this area is not extensive, so I was excited when Noel-Levitz had the opportunity to collaborate with the American Institutes for Research and the Louisiana Board of Regents to explore these issues in Louisiana. With the generous support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we are conducting both the Louisiana research and parallel studies in the state of Oklahoma.
Historically, one problem with trying to use financial aid to impact student success rates is the relatively modest return for each incremental dollar invested. Institutions have had to spend considerable amounts of gift aid—grants and scholarship that the student does not have to repay, including Pell Grants, state programs, and institutional aid—to achieve even small gains in retention . (For a more detailed examination of the issue, see Eric Bettinger’s presentation for the American Enterprise Institute, “Financial Aid: A Blunt Instrument for Increasing Degree Attainment.”) Our initial quest in Louisiana was to determine whether a redistribution of the state’s financial aid could overcome this problem and have a meaningful impact on student retention in a cost-neutral fashion.
This table shows significant numbers of colleges and universities have developed programs designed for retaining sophomores/second-year college students in addition to the traditional focus on first-year students. The data are drawn from Noel-Levitz’s report, 2011 Student Retention Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions, based on a national survey conducted in May 2011.
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.
This table shows that more than half of colleges and universities nationwide are primarily using outcomes data to determine the relative effectiveness of the various initiatives, programs, and interventions they are using to maintain or improve student retention. The data are drawn from Noel-Levitz’s forthcoming report, 2011 Student Retention Practices at Four-Year and Two-Year Institutions.