Unlocking the Secrets of College Retention: Sharing of Info from EdWeek.com

On October  19, 2011, the Campus Office of Institutional Planning attended a webinar offered by Education Week (underwritten by the Lumina Foundation) via edweek.org. Below are notes from that webinar. To view the full webinar, click here

“Unlocking the Secrets of College Retention”

There are many challenges in keeping new students engaged. Many students struggle with finances, studies, and personal issues. This webinar provides information to help bridge the gap between access to college and college completion, with an emphasis on peer and faculty mentoring, financial assistance, tutoring, and social skills development through innovative programs and services.

Carla Wood, Academic Student Center Director/Retention Czar, Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AK

Philander = 700 students/historically black university

Works under the premise: “The caring attitude of college personnel is viewed as the most potent retention force on a campus” (Austin, 1993).

Retention defined: Successful completion of a student’s academic goals (Levitz). This is not always the same for each student….may be graduation, may be a single course.

According to the research:  10% of students won’t make it no matter what (they are not prepared and have a mind-set that they will not complete college); 10% will definitely make it no matter what (they are determined before they even get to college); the other 80% are the ones in “the middle” who services and programs can help retain

2 myths about retention strategies: 1) We must lower academic standards to effectively retain students 2) We must remediate rather than teach

Some strategies used:

  • An Early Alert System was instituted through which students are contacted via text and Facebook (by peer student workers) when they are absent from class or via absentee lists from faculty. 99 students have been contacted to date.
  • Exit Interviews are conducted with students before they leave. These interviews help academic support services identify academic and personal issues so they can assist students with ways to overcome these barriers. At times it only requires a schedule change or a link to resources.
  • A Summer Enrichment Academy is held prior to fall semester. Students are charged $150 for the 4-week program of intensive academic and social skills development. The program is partially funded by a grant to cover books and service/field trips.
  • Freshman Survey and Data Collection of Characteristics are performed for each incoming class. “Retention is based on entering freshmen’s needs and skills.”


Julie Kashen, Senior Vice President, Single Stop USA

“Finances are at the top of the list of deterrents to retention.”

Millions of dollars are available through existing resources that need to be made more readily available.

12 million students enroll in community colleges; 29% of these students have less than $20,000 in household income; 79% work part-time or full-time; many are forced to choose between graduation and groceries; fewer than 1/2 of all community college students will graduate.

Putting money in students’ hands can lead to graduation. These students can focus on their studies, not on rent, food, etc. Safety nets exist through TANF, insurance, SNAP, scholarships, emergency cash grants, etc. Students need a way to access these financial interventions/services.

Single Stop USA is currently in 5 schools in 5 states. They work with community colleges to set-up coordinated, comprehensive case management through assistance with benefits, tax preparation, legal issues, and financial questions. Services are offered on-site and are imbedded in the campus. Counselors work with Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, and Financial Aid. The dean of the college serves as the supervisor of the Single Stop Coordinator.

In 2010, 10,000 students were connected to over $23 million dollars in services.

Case studies and data and being collected and reviewed. More info can be found at Single Stop USA.


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