John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Can Be Done Over the Summer to Improve Next Year’s Retention Rate?

John N. Gardner

I am sure most lay people view college and university summer periods as a time of more relaxed pace, with many of the students and faculty away. And there is some truth in this of course. But for campuses trying to increase student success of the incoming class this is an important period to get in place more effective structures to welcoming and assimilating new students, who will arrive at the end of the summer.

Recently I visited a baccalaureate level, residential college, that is anticipating a reduction in its retention rate from this past fall returning for this fall term. The reasons for this are complex but I am sorry to note have largely to do with student athlete retention. But that’s another story.

Not wanting to repeat next year what happened this year I offered the following strategies/activities to the President’s cabinet as options for an improvement in the coming year’s retention rate. I offered these suggestions in early May when the institution had time to implement many of them. The more important factors though were, would they have the energy, knowledge and will to carry these out?

  1. Launch a Summer Bridge program, open to all, required of some. Provide scholarships for some; fee basis for others. There are plenty of middle class families who would pay a modest amount to give their student a jumpstart on college success.
  2. Examine the process for assigning first-year students their roommates. What are the criteria? What might predict for supportive relationship success?
  3. Take steps to increase academic support attention within residence halls to be available fall term, coupled with an early alert process that triggers intervention by residence hall personnel.
  4. Offer some type of “transition year program” for high(er) risk students to be admitted for fall—required cohort classes and other forms of support, particularly residential learning communities.
  5. Assign high(er) risk students to special cadre of advisors
  6. Revamp Orientation based on what has been most successful in prior years, particularly including more roles for peer leaders.
  7. Introduce leadership education activities for high(er) risk students to increase their engagement
  8. Rethink custodial staffing patterns in first-year halls to prevent conditions from deteriorating and thus encouraging even more deplorable living conditions
  9. Offer special “academic” orientation for athletes, not run by the Athletic Department.  Make sure that athletic practice commitments do not interfere with student athlete social and academic assimilation into the institution during period prior to start of classes.
  10. Conduct a cost/benefit analysis for all sports’ programs and target some for special intervention
  11. Create satellite academic support unit in high traffic athlete space (but of course open to all students)
  12. Make a concerted effort to get faculty to administer some kind of graded measurement in first two weeks and link results to Early Warning system and referrals to academic support center.
  13. Perform an analysis of utilization patterns of academic support center by academic areas so as to ramp up utilization by lower utilizing units
  14. Increase tutoring staffing levels for academic support center
  15. Offer more learning communities in residence halls so that all first-year students have this opportunity.
  16. Target “Exploratory” (undecided) students for early career planning intervention in fall term
  17. Appoint a cabinet level Czar/Czarina for the First Year/Student Success who will therefore be present in cabinet level discussions for input on to decisions that may affect student success outcomes.
  18. Adjust web site to make more First-Year student friendly
  19. Increase late decider transfer student recruitment?
  20. Increased attention to Orientation for transfer students
  21. Examine impact of fall rush on Greek student organization student success and adjust accordingly (defer for some students?)
  22. Make key part of faculty orientation at start of term what they can do this fall to support greater first-year success efforts?
  23. Develop process to increase faculty monitoring of attendance in First-Year classes and to report absences through Early Alert.
  24. Offer a series of “Convocations” throughout the first year.
  25. Combine offering of “Convocations” with establishment of a “common hour” during which no regular class meetings to be held
  26. Increase attention paid to families through such mechanisms as: Family Council, Family Weekend, Siblings’ Weekend, Parents’ Newsletter/website, etc.
  27. Assess high enrollment and high DWFI rate course patterns and target especially high failure rate courses
  28. Commit to increased efforts to increase recruiting of Honors students and therefore to a program that would be distinctive and would enable Honors students to have impact on non-Honors population.

And I had other suggestions that would only be germane to this one particular institution.

So, my readers, what you are you doing this summer to boost the success rate of next year’s entering cohort? What suggestions are you making to your own decision makers?

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