Getting In and Dropping Out

Colleges Move to Organize Retention Efforts

By Beckie Supiano

Colleges are organizing their efforts to improve retention, but the resources they are using may not be equal to the task. That’s the assessment Jerome A. Lucido, vice provost for enrollment policy and management at the University of Southern California, shared at a session of the College Board Forum in New York this past Friday.drop in and out cartoon

The session used data from a survey conducted as part of the College Board Study on Student Retention in partnership with the Project on Academic Success at Indiana University at Bloomington and the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice at the University of Southern California, which Mr. Lucido directs. The researchers hope their study of institutional practices will provide a base line for analyzing which retention practices are effective.

Connecting colleges’ retention efforts to their results can be difficult, said Mary Ziskin, senior associate director of the Project on Academic Success, because “institutions that have low retention rates tend to put more efforts into retention.”

The survey was sent to 1,484 colleges nationwide, of which 442 responded. It built on the results of a pilot survey conducted several years ago.

The national survey found that while nearly three-quarters of the colleges had a designated retention coordinator, that responsibility worked out to an average of about a third of one full-time job. Commuter colleges reported a greater personnel commitment to retention than residential ones. Having a person designated as the retention coordinator whose full-time job is not to organize retention efforts may be a way for colleges to say they are paying attention to this problem without actually doing much, said Scott A. Schulz, program director of Southern California’s center.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said their college has a retention committee. About two-thirds of respondents said their college’s retention coordinator had some authority to implement new initiatives, and about a third reported the coordinator has at least some authority to finance new initiatives. Not having a budget severely limits the creative work a retention coordinator might do, said Don Hossler, executive associate dean and professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Bloomington.

Mr. Lucido said Southern California’s retention committee has no budget, but it does have a written plan, which is “a free thing to do that’s very powerful.” About a third of the colleges that responded have such a plan.

The survey also asked whether colleges engage in several main types of retention efforts: orientation, early-warning alerts, student-faculty engagement, and academic advising. Ninety percent of respondents said more than half of first-year students participate in orientation, and 76 percent of colleges had at least three-quarters of freshmen attend. Forty-four percent of the colleges report having an orientation that extends through the first semester of classes.

professor and studentSeventy percent of respondents said they collect midyear grades for freshmen, and more than half flag courses with high rates of D’s, F’s, and withdrawals. Nearly half have a voluntary weekly session for students to deepen their learning in courses with high rates of low or failing grades, and withdrawals. Eighty-three percent of colleges said their first-year students are required to meet with an adviser at least once a term.

While efforts to coordinate retention are in their early stage, government attention on college outcomes and family concerns about a college’s value are likely to increase this drive, Mr. Lucido said.

Chronicle of Higher Education

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