Community lecture on retention: March 2017
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Community lecture on retention: March 2017

February 26, 2020


Well, thank you. I’d like to welcome everybody, and I’m really glad that you came to hear my talk. A lot of it is a review from my dissertation, but it also speaks to how important retention really is, and it really is interconnected with everything on campus. So, hopefully, by the end of the presentation, we will have made those connections for you. But I’m going to start out first with an overview, so we’re going to define what persistence, retention, and attrition are. Because they are all used interchangeable but all mean something different. Then we’re going to talk about the importance of retention, the history of retention, then we’ll move into retention models. I’ve got a couple that I’m going to show you that have kind of been the forerunners for the current research is. Finally we’ll talk about why retention is important to us here on WOU’s campus. First, let’s talk about retention, persistence, and attrition. Retention is an institutional measure. Persistence is a student measure. As you can see, with these words being used interchangeably, they don’t really mean the same thing because students persist, institutions retain. And attrition is the diminution in numbers of students resulting from lower retention rates. So attrition is the number of students we lose from not retaining them. So, then, why is retention important? As we know, it’s a multi-facted, complex issue that there’s no silver bullet in defining or solving this problem. It’s been a problem throughout the history of higher education. It’s taken on a stronger role since the nineties on. It’s really taken a big role in how we look at our institutions and the student services we provide. But, what I’d like to talk to you about first is the cost to the student as well as the cost to the institution. So, say we got here and we didn’t persist until the end of our degrees. What would maybe happen to us? One cost is the risk of developing an aversion to learning. This happens because the student perceives they had a bad experience. So, as you can tell, that has nothing to do with what we really do, because it’s their perception of the experience here. So if they encounter a negative person, even on the phone, if they call the bookstore and they send you a million different ways, that could be a negative experience that students could end up leaving as a result of. Granted, it’s probably not that low-level, but it is something to consider. Another one is a financial cost. Not only do they spend time going to get their education, but there’s also the financial cost if they don’t graduate, and the cost to that could be that they have huge amounts of student loan debt that they can’t pay back because they don’t have access to higher-paying jobs because they don’t have the degree to let them in the door. So they’re at a higher risk for defaulting on their student loans, and then of course at risk for not earning as much money as some other folks may earn. Continuing on, now let’s talk about the institutional costs of student departure. What could be some immediate direct costs that an institution could have as a result of students not persisting. There’s recruitment, financial aid, the loss of dollars for them having visitors come, and the money they would spend on tutoring, other resources that they may pay for, which, at Western I know that we provide a good bit so they’re probably not spending a lot of money. But they’re not purchasing there, they’re not going downtown to eat at Yeasty Beasty, stuff like that. So it ends up being much more than we really think about when you break it down to three categories. The next category is the immediate indirect costs. Indirect costs are faculty staff salaries, because faculty staff salaries are based on enrollment numbers not students served, so that enrollment number is what we can then make a decision on when we hire and we do raises, that kind of thing. And then, last there’s the long-term potential. This goes into students who don’t complete, they don’t become donors to the institution. They may also not refer others to the institution. So it kind of goes back to the power of nine in the customer service training, where you have a bad experience somewhere, so you tell nine people, they tell nine people, and before you know it, we could have an enrollment problem just simply from bad word of mouth. So it’s very important that we do what we can to retain our students. Of course, an educated population is a productive population, and critical thinking skills are extremely important in this day of multimedia. We’ve got so many different things coming at us, and then college is an environment in which students can have that safe place to learn, so they can hone those critical thinking skills without a fear of failure. Institutional cost of attrition. But anyway, this was an example that they just did on the average tuition for in-state public college is seventy six hundred dollars. So, let’s say eight hundred out of four thousand, using eighty percent tuition rate, drop out of school. Then, the gross amount of tuition lost is six million eighty thousand dollars. And then minus the four hundred thousand because that’s the estimated cost that this example used of the amount the institution spent on financial aid, so we don’t just get money from federal dollars, institutions also put their own money into financial aid to be able to have grants and scholarships and other ways to help close the gap of what their financial need is. That results in a net loss of five million six hundred and eighty thousand. That’s a lot of money. Unless we can replace all of these students, which is becoming increasingly unlikely with flat graduation rates in the state of Oregon, and we’ve got a new institution competing with us that has a goal of five thousand really soon in Bend, and who would want to go do their college experience in Bend? Now we’re going to talk about the history of retention and what happened as we got to where we are today. So the origins were in the sixteen hundreds to the mid eighteen hundreds. As we know, in the beginning higher education was for the elite few. Degree completion was rare. Students went to college, got whatever skill they needed, and then went out to their job. The paper didn’t matter. Institutions were also fairly new, so they were focused on their own survival, and not necessarily retaining students, and that sort of stuff. Then we have the Morrill Land Grant of 1862, which is really what was one of the first things that opened higher education to the masses. So we’re taking a big jump from the 1800s to the 1930s, which is the next big time that stuff happened. The first studies on retention began. John McNeely in 1938 was the first one to start looking at factors that influenced whether students persist or don’t. So he looked at demographic characteristics, social engagement, reasons for departure, and, again, he was our groundbreaking study and the precursor to what went on in the sixties. Then the G.I. Bill happened, and that had an impact on higher ed in that we had all these World War Two veterans coming back and getting educations, so, again we see access explode, we see higher education institutions being built, a lot of growth in this area. Then we have the Higher Education Act of 1965, which allowed for even more access to higher education. It created support services to ensure academic success as well, and institutions at this time started developing research and programs dedicated to the understanding and supporting of student retention. They were starting to see that this was a big deal. Now come the seventies. The Study of College Student Retention is born. William Spady did the first study in 1970. He looked at a sociological model of student drop out. It was based upon Emil Durkeim’s suicide theory. Then we had Vincent Tinto in 1975. Tinto also used Emil Durkheim’s suicide theory to build his but he also added the student integration piece. A model helps us to understand and explain the student departure process, and also what we can do to mitigate students leaving college without completing their degree. Spady, 1970. Based on Emil Durkeim’s suicide theory. First widely accepted retention model. Had five variable indirectly related to student departure decisions. Those were academic potential, normative congruence, grade performance, intellectual development, and social. Spady found that the formal academic performance was the dominant factor for student attrition. Here is Spady’s model. As you can see, it takes family background into consideration. It also has your academic potential and your normative congruence. And then from there, we lead into grade performance, intellectual development, friendship, social integration, and then based on all the stuff going on, they either decide to drop out or they decide to commit to the institution. So as you can tell there are a lot of factors going on here. So now Tinto. It’s partially based on Durkeim’s suicide model. Student attrition is linked to both formal and informal academic experiences and social integration. And this is really what sets Tinto apart. He really figured out that academic experience plus social integration were critical to student success. His model has been revised and expanded; the last revision was in 2014. In the expansions of his model, he has included the alignment of student experience with student expectations, and then supporting student transition as they move through their college experience is another important experience. And here’s Tinto’s model, and it basically again takes your pre-collegiate factors. It really is taking a holistic look at the student and pretty much every aspect that could influence them. Based on all of the decisions and where they’re going, they either commit to their goal and stay at the institution, or they may drop out. Alright, so now we move to the 1980s. We’ve got the declines in enrollment, enrollment management is born. Enrollment management takes a university-wide approach, so that’s where you start to see the different areas collaborating, and that’s where student affairs gets to do deeper work and really cross-collaborate with other student affairs folks on campus. And the facilitation across academic and student affairs as well. The retention literature grew and it became a focal point of institutional strategic plans. The theories of the eighties also began stressing the importance of prior academic experience, distance from home, socioeconomic status, student satisfaction, and influence of peers on student involvement. And then how students develop during their college experience. Now fast-forward to the nineties. Literature now began focusing on retaining students of color, underrepresented populations, individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, and the research focused on how institutions can embrace diversity and promote multiculturalism on campus. Tinto 1993 is where he finally figured out that different students with unique experiences require specific interventions and policies. So this is where you start to feel a lot more push at meeting individual needs of the student based on background and characteristics, as well as how they’re adjusting to college. The second half of the decade, student transition periods began being studied. So, the fact that students do transition from high school to college. And then they also transition as they’re here. So a freshman needs much different support than a senior does. The first year experience became popular. Providing quality support services to all students. So it wasn’t just like ‘we have this thing’ but really starting to educate students that ‘here, we offer these services, we’re here to help you. We want to have you succeed.’ Also campus-wide collaboration so, again, breaking down the silos, really starting to work with one another to promote the best student experience possible for our students. And then Anderson 1997, advising is imperative; it keeps students motivated. Wykckoff 1999, interactions students have with all institutional members influences their decision to stay. Earlier I talked about the person picking up the phone and the bookstore sending you a million different directions. That’s not a good experience. We don’t have to have that happen. We want to make sure that we have the right people in the right places, but also that the people answering the phones know where to send that person so you’re not sending them six different places and they have to tell their story six different times and they wasted thirty minutes. And Tinto 1999, advising should be an integral part of the first year and of their development, because your relationship with your academic advisor is so key. I don’t know how to stress that, but it really is a key relationship. Because most times your academic advisor is your first point of contact on campus. You may have the admissions folks, but when it really comes into ‘okay, how am I going to adjust to college, what’s here for me?’ That’s really where your advising folks come in, and can talk to them about the different supports available. So now 2000 to the present. Holistic approaches to undergraduate retention carried over. Programs and initiatives stress formal and informal student experiences, inside and outside of the classroom. So, not only what happens inside the classroom is super important, but also what happens outside of the classroom is also very important to a student’s decision to stay or depart. Habley 2004 talked about the sense of connection and ability to navigate the campus culture. Meet expectations, and also graduate. Tinto 2004 talks about easily accessible academic, personal, and social supports are a must. Because high expectations plus actively involving students in their learning equals an environment where students are likely to succeed, and at the end of the day, that’s our goal. We want our students to stay, we want to retain them, we want them to succeed, we want them to become friends of the university. Factors influencing retention: academic preparation, obviously, academic engagement, social engagement, financing college, and demographic characteristics. The quality of prior instruction, so for example, we don’t necessarily control the K-12 school that they came out of. Our students are coming from all over. They’re coming from Hawaii, they’re coming from across the country, we’ve got students from everywhere, so that’s a lot of K-12 systems that we then get the product of. And then preparedness for college work. Completion of a strong high school curriculum is a predictor of undergraduate success. And then high school achievement indicators are: GPA, high school rank, and those positively correlate with undergraduate retention. How do we get students to engage in their academics? Through their connection with academic life, and if they have strong relationships with faculty, they’re going to come in and ask you for help. They’re going to feel more comfortable approaching you. Many freshmen are scared to death of us. They think we’re these mean scary people, and the reality is we care about them. We want them to be successful. Come talk to me, I will help you with whatever I can help you with. Or if I don’t know math very well, I know I can send you to Sylvia and she will talk to you about math, and she will help you, and that’s great stuff, so as academic advisors or other student affairs professionals on campus, we can still have a positive impact by talking to students, normalizing faculty, and helping them see them as they are regular people just like us. And then, of course, faculty-student interactions. Taking advantages of resources that promote academic success. So, again, reframing the services we offer into ‘this is a good thing for you.’ The writing center is great. They will help you learn to write better. It’s not that you are a terrible writer, you don’t have it right, you need all this skill-building, it’s just always good to have another set of eyes looking at your work, proofreading, sometimes I don’t always have my grammar in the right place so it’s nice to have somebody else reading something that I can learn from. Another thing is learning communities, so linking courses with the student experience. And then, of course, any program that encourages faculty-student interactions is going to be great because the students are here to learn from the faculty. At Western, we promote that we are student-centered. There is that small faculty-to-student ratio, so we really have the ability to do a good job with this and help foster those relationships between our faculty and our students. So, failing to make satisfactory academic progress is one of the predictors of failure to graduate. I think that’s important to keep in mind, especially if someone is having to do developmental work, if they’re not having a positive experience with that, or they’re being made to feel shameful of being in this class, that’s going to impact probably how they do in that class, and they may not get that strong foundation they really know, and they end up failing the next level of class, and repeating and there’s a lot of literature on the impact that failing classes actually has on students’ self esteem, and that factors into their decision to stay or go. Social engagement. Humans are social beings. We want to be accepted; we want to be in the ‘in’ crowd and move on to successfully integrate into the social life of our campus, because that will then help us be successful in our academic life. the important factors to student integration are: making friends, finding mentors, connections with faculty, and the act of social integration is a cumulative process. I think that’s also something important to keep in mind. They’re learning, and every semester they’re here, and each week they’re here longer, they learn more and more, and their whole college experience ends up being a cumulation of everything they’ve learned. And then, participation in student orgs and engaging in campus traditions positively influences institutional commitment and retention. Alright, so financing college. How do we pay for this monster? There are a few financial risk factors of students not completing colleges and those are: folks who have high needs when they come in, first generation, less rigorous academic preparation, and then students with high financial need are more successful when they are given grants and scholarships, but scholarships and grants are not a guarantee that they will persist. That’s kind of important to keep in mind, too. Demographic characteristics. So, parents’ level of education. First generations struggle a lot because a lot of the time they’ve got familial expectations and then they’re trying to go to college, and they’ve got parents that don’t understand what’s going on with school, so they don’t understand ‘why can’t you come home every night? Why do you have to live on campus? What’s that about? No, you just go and come back.’ But we know that they need this holistic approach to really be successful in college. Gender. As we know, females are more likely to persist than males. Ethnicity, socioeconomic status, distance from hometown. First generation students attending four-year institutions are twice as likely to depart from the institution before the start of their second year. If you don’t have parents that have been through this, you don’t have that person at home like ‘you can do this.’ I’m not saying first-generation parents are not supportive; I’m certain that they are. But they’re not going to be supportive in the same way that someone who’s been through the process and understands the process will be. So then why is retention important to us? And this is specific to WOU. So I saw this stat and I totally stole it from Sue Monahan’s presentation. Well, that’s my last slide, so April eleventh is Sylvia Valdez-Fernandez and she’ll be talking about math as the new social justice. And then we have Rob Courrier in May and he will be talking about international students.

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