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Notes on ACT: What Works in Student Retention? All Surveyed Colleges

ACT: What Works in Student Retention?

These notes were put together by Jill Chiang, Berkeley.

  • In an all college survey, only about half the colleges were able to identify an individual responsible for coordinating retention strategies (51.7%) and have established an improvement goal for retention of students from the first to second year (47.2%). Only 33.1% have established a goal for improved degree completion.
    • Those specifically responsible for retention (had the term retention, the term enrollment, or the terms student affairs, student services, student development or student success included in the title made up 21.5%, 15.8%, and 19.8% respectively)
    • The most, 29.1% included the terms Director, Coordinator, or Executive Director included in the title.
  • Institutions are more likely to attribute attrition to students characteristics than they are to attribute attrition to institutional characteristics.
    • Institutional characteristics (only 2 factors reported back): amount of financial aid available and student-institution fit
    • Student characteristics (13 factors reported back):including lack of motivation to succeed, inadequate financial resources, inadequate preparation for college, and poor study skills
  • Retention practices responsible for the greatest contribution to retention:
    • First year programs – freshman seminar/university 101 for credit, learning communities, integration of academic advising with first year programs
      • Freshman seminar/university 101 for credit: Only offered by 13.1%
    • Academic advising – advising interventions with select students, more advising staff, integration of advising with first year transition programs, academic advising centers, and centers that have both academic advising with career and life planning
      • Advising intervention with select students: 12.6%
    • Learning support: a comprehensive learning assistance center/lab, reading center/lab, supplemental instruction, required remedial/development coursework
      • Tutoring program: 13.1%
      • Mandated course placement testing program: 10.7%
      • Comprehensive learning assistance center/lab: 10.4%
    • The remaining practices were cited by less than 10% of all colleges
  • The top institutional factors making the greatest contribution to attrition (on a scale of 1 to 5) ranked highest among Financial Aid, Student-Institution Fit, Student Involvement, Social Environment, and Curriculum (least included Personal Counseling Services, Admission Practices/Requirements, Quality of Teaching)
  • Student Characteristics making the greatest contribution to student attrition ranked highest in: Lack of Motivation to Succeed (Lack of Educational inspirations and goals), Inadequate Financial Resources, Inadequate Preparation For College-Level Work, and Poor Study Skills. Health Problems and Poor Social Integration were among the lowest.
  • Most college integration services were : tutoring programs, academic clubs, instructional use of technology, individual career counseling service, orientation services
    • Least were Freshmen Seminar/University 101, Study Groups, Social Skills Course/Program, Community Member Mentoring
  • The top program with the Greatest Impact on Retention happened to be the least offered college integration services – Freshman Seminar/University 101
  • Recommendations from the ACT:
  1. Designate a visible individual to coordinate a campus-wide planning team
  2. Conduct a systematic analysis of the characteristics of your students
    1. Who are our students?
    2. What differentiates students who stay from students who leave?
    3. Look at demographics, academic performance, academic plans, non-academic variables, self-reported needs, student opinions and attitudes
  3. Focus on the nexus of student characteristics and institutional characteristics
  4. Carefully review high-impact strategies identified through the survey (first year programs, academic advising, learning support)
  5. Do not make first to second year retention strategies the sole focus of planning team efforts
  6. Establish realistic short-term and long-term retention, progression, and completion goals
  7. Orchestrate the Change Progress
    1. Composition of the planning team
    2. Frequent reports to and input from the entire campus community
    3. Provide proof of concept in support of planning team recommendations
  8. Implement, Measure, Improve