Student Retention Solution – The Four Cornerstones of Retention-based Research

Western Illinois University wants to retain more of its students. Particularly for first year students, a WGEM.com article notes that “More than a third of Western Illinois University’s freshman last year didn’t come back for their sophomore year.” So their answer is that they implemented a new mentoring program – Building Connections. This program taps into faculty and staff to volunteer to mentor incoming Freshmen.

Now whether the program is highly successful or not depends on many things; consider these questions. What’s in it long-term for the “volunteer” staff to fully participate? How well-trained are the staff? Do the students even want a faculty/staff mentor? About what will they be mentored?

But the most important question is “What’s the root cause of the problem?” The article notes that “over half of last year’s Freshman were first generation college students,” but that’s a fact, not necessarily a root cause. I hope that WIU is really digging into research to identify what are the core characteristics of those who do not return v. those who do. The research needs to be based on their historical data, the perceptions of their incoming Freshmen, their current students, and those that left. These are the Four Cornerstones of Retention-based Research.

In other words, I hope they use data to point them toward the right solutions.

When you’re dealing with retention issues, you most likely have a myriad of data on customers who were retained and those who weren’t. Use that as the starting to point to get at the true root cause.

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One comment

  1. Ed, student retention rates are quickly becoming a major concern for educational institutions as you know. The federal government recently made it mandatory for colleges and Universities to publish their retention and graduation rates online and through the FAFSA process. The Department of Education is very concerned with attrition as it can be a red flag for many deficiencies.

    I have always believed that a retention strategy begins with the mission. If the entire institution commits to retaining students the effort is not burdened on one department nor will there need to be a special committee or program. Secondly, the admission process is a proactive approach. Who are we admitting? What is the profile of a successful student at this particular school? We want to give everyone equal opportunity, but we want them to be set up for success instead of failure. Counseling and placing students at other institutions where they are a better fit is not only a good will gesture but also a win-win for student and school.

    Then there is the first semester hump of getting students to return after thanskgiving break. And on and on. Retention truly is a robust effort that should be embraced by both academia and administration.

    Just my thoughts,
    Dallas Bragg

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