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Report: Creative Data Analysis a Top Strategy for Improving Retention

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Systematic, creative data analysis is one of several key retention strategies among top-performing public universities, according to a new report from Eduventures. In an effort to identify best practices for retention, "Eduventures Insights: Strategies to Win the Retention Race" examined higher education institutions across the U.S. with higher-than-expected retention rates (compared to an "Eduventures Predicted Retention Rate" for each institution based on academics, affordability and the campus environment).

Each year, American colleges and universities lose an estimated $6.6 billion in tuition alone to first-time, first-year student attrition, according to the research firm, making retention an ever-higher strategic priority. The report highlighted the following key practices of high-performing institutions:

  • "A campuswide retention strategy starts at the top. A successful retention strategy requires making tough decisions — who to admit, what to spend, how to measure — that can pit priorities against one another. Without clear directives and a commitment from institutional leadership, few administrators can gain the cross-campus buy-in required to develop a clear, cohesive approach. Everyone on campus must be committed to supporting at-risk students from orientation through graduation.
  • "Weigh recruiting for fit against enrollment goals. In today's competitive recruitment environment, a selective strategy requires sacrificing high-risk enrollments. It is important to recognize this trade-off and determine whether leaner enrollments or more robust retention programs to support admitted students makes more sense for your institution.
  • "Collect data systematically; analyze data creatively. A data audit can identify gaps in data collection to inform a strategy for a comprehensive, cross-campus approach to data collection. Once you have collected the right data, experiment with cutting data by different student populations to identify your at-risk students as specifically and early as possible. Also keep in mind that risk is not limited to student factors and could lie in other parts of the campus experience, particularly courses with high withdrawal/D/failure rates.
  • "Deploy resources to prioritize at-risk populations. Focus support programs on the most at-risk populations to ensure that they have the biggest impact. As retention improves, broaden your focus to include additional populations based on their predicted level of risk. Cohort programs, such as living learning communities and mentor groups, can be especially effective means to deliver support programs to particular student populations.
  • "Intervene early for the greatest impact. In many districts, struggling K-12 systems are not adequately preparing students for college-level study. Rather than waiting until students enroll, some colleges intervene as early as 11th grade to provide remedial education and mentor high school teachers. Although this type of proactive approach requires a larger investment up front, it improves students' odds of success and builds recognition for the college within the broader community."

According to Heather O'Leary, principal analyst focused on retention strategies at Eduventures, "There are a number of factors that impact first-year student retention and we advocate an integrated approach that includes both academic and non-academic programming and analysis."

For more information, visit the Eduventures site.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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