From Scratch: The 4 Ingredients for Increasing Student Persistence

From Scratch: The 4 Ingredients for Increasing Student Persistence

Tyler L McClain

Assistant Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Explore the lessons learned from a start-up Student Success Office that was able to increase first year retention from 85.5% to 89% and graduation rates from 77% to 79% within 5 years. In this post our authors share essential data required for developing a retention strategic plan and the importance of outreach to individual students and cross campus collaboration. All of their initiatives were accomplished without an integrated technology system.

Dr. Kim Allen-Stuck has served as the Assistant Vice President for Student Success & Educational Support at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) since June 2014. Previously, Kim was the Director of Student Success and First Year Experience also at SJU. During her time as the Director, the first year to sophomore retention rate went from 85.5% to 90% and graduation rates from 75% to 78%, while the national average for retention is 75% and graduation is 55%. The improved persistence rates can be attributed to focusing on individual outreach to students facing obstacles, coordinated support throughout campus, and institutional programmatic and policy changes resulting from student feedback. Kim has both her Master’s and Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Within the last four years, Kim has presented at three national conferences including the AACRAO Strategic Enrollment Management Conference, the Education Policy Institute Forum on Education and the Economy, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Assessment and Persistence Conference.

Dan McDevitt is the Director of Student Success & First Year Experience at Saint Joseph's University and has worked in the office since 2011. His role focuses on the retention and academic success of all traditional undergraduate students. Prior to working in student retention, Dan worked as the Assistant Director of Academic Advising and as a Professional Tutor. He taught as an adjunct professor for five years and is currently pursuing an Ed.D. degree with a concentration in Higher Education Administration from Saint Joseph's University. Dan has presented at several national conferences (NASPA, AACRAO SEM, EPI) on the topics of student retention and effective programming for struggling students. In addition, he co-authored an article on reducing summer admissions melt that was published in the July 2014 issue of Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly.

Dan started by sharing the significant interest Kim and himself have in student success and retention, followed by a brief introduction of Saint Joseph’s University through various facts and figures.

To outline their recipe for success they next shared their four ingredients to increasing student persistence.

  • Accurate accessible data
  • Engaging with students who are an attrition risk
  • Involving the campus community
  • Following a strategic plan

These four main ingredients proved to be a great mixture for success as we learned throughout the webinar.

Accurate accessible data

Dan explained that you need to know who your students are, you need to have the data, and you need to track what is happening. It is important to know these data points and share them out so campus administrators know how to best interact with students in each class cohort, it starts with the data. Audience members were asked how they define success at their institution. Dan shared, attaining a bachelor’s degree with in six year is how they define success at SJU.

Kim then shared some goals set for their original 2020 plan as she transitioned to speaking about the importance of managing your cohort, you have to start by monitoring your summer melt. She outlined 16 points of engagement SJU utilizes to determine if a student is attending SJU and part of a class cohort. Kim and Dan have pinpointed specific activities that are used for validating the students who are attending the university in an effort to lock down their cohort by October 1st annually. Ultimately, cohort management is knowing what all of your students are doing.

Engaging with students who are an attrition risk

Dan explained how various programs function at SJU to help students overcome obstacles. He shared how they use systematic outreach to work with their cohort and help students with holds, academic issues, and assisting students in the transfer process. Kim next detailed the tracking indicators of attrition that the student success center at SJU use to determine if students are transferring. They intentionally reach out to assist students with the transfer process based on these indicators and have a conversation. To facility this conversation Kim and Dan utilize the One Question Exit Interview(1QEI) game, which is comprised of a game board with ten different reasons for why students traditionally leave an institution and ten poker chips for which the student can use to weight their reason(s) for leaving. Kim followed her explanation of the 1QEI game, which has a 95% response rate, with data from their 2014-2015 academic year. Additionally, she explained other data points are collected during the conversation and how they share this data with the SJU campus community. Webinar attendees were provided with a copy of instructions about how to facility the 1QEI game , which can also be found through the webinar recording.

But what about students who do not graduate? Dan explained their processes and communication outreach plan for connecting with these students. He detailed specific anecdotes about the benefits they have found while utilizing this outreach plan.

Involving the campus community

Kim explained how her start in this role as an office lead to collaboration being a significant part of her life. Since that time SJU has formalized many of their processed related to student success and retention through the center. They have also launched a unique program that engages various administrators across campus by connecting them with students beginning during the summer melt. Kim also described the functions of various committees focused on student success.

Following a strategic plan

Kim detailed how they have directly aligned the retention strategic plan with the university strategic plan. Kim shared examples of topics that are discussed during quarterly meetings of the strategic planning committee to review their progress and any barriers to success.

In the end, there is no one solution, every college and university is very unique but perhaps these examples of data informed decisions can help your institution find a recipe for success.

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Tyler L McClain

Assistant Director, Office of Research & Strategic Initiatives, Campus Labs

Dallas, TX