In today’s higher education climate of low-enrollment, shrinking government funding, and higher expectations from “students as customers,” the focus on retention is relevant. However, with all the “talk” on retention, do we know how to “do” retention? Let’s examine a few of the research supported practices on retention and discuss the specifics of how faculty, administrators and counselors perform retention strategies. Is retention something extra that we have to do, or can we make it a habit that is integrated into our standard operating procedures?
The Habit of Retention by Amanda Burbage In today’s higher education climate of low-enrollment, shrinking government funding, and higher expectations from “students as customers,” the focus on retention is relevant. However, with all the “talk” on retention, do we know how to “do” retention? Let’s examine a few of the research supported practices on retention and discuss the specifics of how faculty, administrators and counselors perform retention strategies. Is retention something extra that we have to do, or can we make it a habit that is integrated into our standard operating procedures?
In 2010, an estimated 13.7 million students enrolled in degree granting post-secondary institutions; The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects an increase to 20.6 million in 2021. NCES reports that public community college students represent 34% of all U.S. undergraduates; however, over half of these students will drop out.
Being the largest sector of American higher education, community colleges play an integral role in expanding students’ access to postsecondary education (Cohen & Brawer, 2008). There are around 1, 200 community colleges and they collectively enrol 45% of undergraduates in the nation (American Association of Community Colleges, 2014). To maximize individual and societal benefits of attending two-year community colleges, access to higher education should always be accompanied by student retention, and certificate or degree completion. However, community colleges have low persistence and completion rates (Bailey & Alfonso, 2005). For instance, almost half of the students who began their postsecondary education at two-year community colleges were found to have left their institutions during their first year (Braxton, Hirschy, & McClendon, 2004). About 45% of the students who started their colleges studies at community colleges in 2003/04 academic year had left their schools without completing
Retention is often discussed by faculty and administrators in terms of “we’ve got to keep these students”. With low enrollment across colleges, every student matters… they always did but they really do now! The percentage of HS enrolling was. The sobering fact is that less than sixty percent of the students entering four-year college in America today are graduating within six years.(Bowen,Chingos,&McPherson,2009.) Historically,facultymembershavenotbeenexpectedtoplayamajorroleinretainingstudents.Theirrole,instead,wasto“sort”studentsbyassigningthemgradesbasedontheirperformance.Thecommonview,forquitealongtime,wasthat“studentshavearighttofail.” National Center for Education Statistics, however, differentiates the terms by using “retention” as an institutional measure and “persistence” as a student measure. In other words, institutions retain and students persist.
Tinto (2006) observed that some 40 years ago student attrition was looked at mostly from a psychology lens and focused mostly on student “attributes, skills, and motivation” (p. 2). However, that one-pronged approach has been thoroughly eradicated in the intervening years. We now have a range of models, some sociological, some psychological, and others economic in nature that have been proposed as being better suited to the task of explaining student leaving (Tinto, 2006, p. 4). Again, great work trying to understand why students do or do not persist or why institutions have fluctuating retention numbers.
A student behavior
A student behavior
It justifies our existence – what’s the purpose of a higher education institution that doesn’t keep, train and graduate students? It’s it just a scam?
Financially necessary – our performance measures are tied to our funding. Like it or not there are too many schools that took advantage of the glut of college money and now we’re all paying for it. Plus, many schools are “Keeping up with the Joneses” by spending money on services and facilities and we have to pay for it
A societal expectation – this ties into #1 but it’s a little deeper; employers, receiving institutions, parents and students all expect something for their money. Shouldn’t they?!
You might just like it! – it’s good for you professionally (your classes make, you get positive attention from administration) and personally (it feels good to help students achieve their lifelong dream)
Solutions to the retention dilemma have been both varied and recurrent - meaning that, over the past 30 years or so, we've not only tried a lot of different programs and gimmicks to keep students on track but have recycled many of them. I've lost count, for instance, of the number of times the colleges where I've worked have switched from faculty-based student advising to using professional advisers and then switched back. The result: Many seasoned faculty members are understandably dubious - not about retaining students but about the latest administrative retention scheme du jour.
Faculty members are on the front line of meeting the increasingly important retention imperative. Instructors interact with students frequently and are likely to be among the first to notice signs that a student is disengaging from college and at-risk of dropping but . By learning to recognize the warning signs and taking informed intervention action, a faculty member can play a key role in changing the course of a student’s life for the better. This is an exciting opportunity and a big responsibility, but future generations depend on our willingness to rise to the challenge.
Professors usually have more frequent and continuous contact with students than any other institutional representative
Faculty are also responsible for evaluating students--a sensitive task with major implications for retention because of its impact on students' motivation and self-esteem
Instructors are in a good position to observe specific student behavior which can serve as "red flags“
The faculty members represent the authority figure, the mentor, and the role model that may not appear anywhere else in the student’s life. Because the faculty members are in such a position, their influence over students can be very significant. I
Fostering Multiple Forms of Student Success. Tinto (2006) contends that college and university faculty members do not view student retention as their responsibility. However, institutional interests in increasing student retention arise from the negative effects of student departure on the stability of institutional enrollments, budgets, and the public perception of the quality of colleges and universities (Braxton, Hirschy, and McClendon, 2004). Thus, college and university faculty members view institutional efforts to increase institutional rates of student retention as an administrative matter. Put differently, faculty members tend to view such institutional efforts as seeking an instrumental goal and not a substantive goal such as enhancing student learning. As a consequence, they disregard student retention as their responsibility. However, a knowledge and understanding of the role various aspects of the college classroom play in fostering multiple forms of student success may persuade faculty members to embrace student retention as one of their responsibility
Expand out of class support Integrate career and academic advising Improve student orientation Set up earl alert and coaching system Give students a “my learning plan” tool Bill Law: 5 Strategies to Improve Student Retention and Success in Community College Journal
Citing a survey by the American College Testing Program, King (1993) revealed that inadequate academic advising emerged as the strongest negative factor in student retention, while a caring attitude of faculty and staff and high quality advising emerged among the strongest positive factors.
Third, students appear to be significantly and negatively affected by having gatekeeper courses taught by other part-time faculty. This finding emerges even after controlling for key variables, such as students’ prior and current academic achievement, academic major, average gatekeeper course size, and number of gatekeeper credits a student completed. By controlling for these extenuating variables, we see that exposure to other part-time faculty may have less to do with this faculty subgroup’s pedagogy and possibly more to do with their level of availability and accessibility on campus. According to Seymour and Hewitt (1997), these gatekeeper courses are characterized by high enrollments and high levels of competition among students. Because of these characteristics, gatekeeper courses suffer from poor pedagogical practices regardless of the type of instructor, as these classes generally focus on lectures and fail to engage students in the classroom. Given that Schuster (2003) and Schuster and Finkelstein (2006) concluded that part-time faculty are generally less accessible and less available to students, it is possible that the negative effects on retention of having gatekeeper classes taught by other part-time faculty stemmed from students’ inability to meet with or connect with these instructors outside the classroom for additional guidance or assistance with course content. The finding of negative effects on persistence from the large class sizes in these key introductory courses supports prior research (Borden and Burton, 1999; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).
Baker and Siryk (1999)distinguish four concepts in academic integration, namely academic adjustment, social adjustment, personal and emotional adjustment and attachment. Academic adjustment refers to the degree of a student's success in coping with various educational demands such as motivation, application, performance and satisfaction with the academic environment. Social adjustment on the other hand describes how well students deal with the interpersonal-societal demands of a study, such as working in groups. The scale personal and emotional adjustment indicates he psychological and physical level of distress experienced while adapting to the academic way-of-life. Finally, attachment reflects the degree of commitment to the educational-institutional goals. In a large umber of studies in U.S. colleges, the four concepts of academic adjustment are positively related with study progress and study performance (Baker & Siryk, 1999) Faculty competency well demonstrated through clear communication and preparation
As numerous researchers have suggested (Astin, 1984; Mallette & Cabrera, 1991; Nora, 1987; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1980; Terenzini & Pascarella, 1977), the greater students are academically integrated in the life of the institution, the greater the likelihood that they will persist.
Umbach & Wawrzynski Course-related interactions appear to be positively related with student engagement (See table 2).
Use of a “Buddy System,” has been noted by several researchers in regard to its success in improving retention and social support (Stone, 2005, Tinto, 1993, Ball State University, 2008, Geckeis, 2002, Moran et al., 2003, Wilson, Ptizer, Bell & White, 2008 and Pedak & Sapin, 2008). I employ the “Buddy System” on the first day of class.
Zhao and Kuh (2004) emphasized the importance of course content. From the authors’ point of view, a faculty member’s thorough knowledge of content of a course enables students to develop their identities and integrate what they learn into their worldview and other academic and social experiences. For this reason, the teacher should first have complete control over the content - including texts and materials. Also, the teacher should view the content clearly from different perspectives and varied experiences of a range of groups of students in the classroom (Saunders & Kardia, 2010). For
When constructing your course outline or syllabus, explicitly include a written statementindicating that you value student involvement
On the first day of class, request students to submit to you asheet of paper or index card listing their namesand some information about themselves
thought-provoking questionsdesigned to stimulate student involvement with the course material and student interaction with the teacher.
Pause after asking questions - Longer post-question silence may be necessary to allow students the "incubation" time requisite for higher-order thinking. After posing the question, make eye contactwith students who have been reticent to participate.
small discussion groups
Increase students' involvement in the course by soliciting their course perceptions(subjective feelings of course satisfaction) while the class is still in progress
Increase student involvement by providing students with some decision-making opportunities with respect to the course
Current research indicates that institutes and the social networks of student shave a large influence on how first year students adjust (Christie, Munro, & Fisher, 2004; Severiens & Wolff, 2008; Tinto, 1998; ilcox t al., 2005).Therefore, in line with Severiens and Wolff (2008)we distinguish two elements in social integration among students, namely the social integration facilitated by the institute(i.e. formal social integration)and the social integration facilitated by the social network of students(i.e. informal social integration). The perception of faculty, that is the perceived esteem of the faculty by family, friends, the general public and future employers, influences the social integration of students (Gloria, Castellanos, Lopez, & Rosales, 2005). he educational system used t the institute has a strong influence on academic and social integration of students(Christie et al., 2004; Eringa & Huei-Ling, 2009). For example, Christie et al. (2004)found that institutes with smaller classes and intensive mentoring are more successful in retaining students during the first year of studies than institutes with large classes. Research on constructivist learning methods like Problem-ased Learning (PBL) has highlighted that students are more likely to develop social relationships with other students than when students are following education in large lecture halls (Hmelo-Silver, 2004; Lindblom-Ylänne, Pihlajamäki, & Kotkas, 2003). In addition, a common educational method among universities of applied science is Competence-Based Education (CBE), whereby education is focusing on relevant professional competences and skills of students rather than heretical and general knowledge (Baartman, Prins, Kirschner, & Van der Vleuten, 2007; Segers, Dochy, & Cascallar, 2003ith respect to the informal social integration of students, we distinguish three factors, namely: social support by family and friends; social life; and national/ethnic identity.
Faculty interactions – ask students directly, know them personally, be intrustive
Tinto (1997) suggested that if social integration was to occur, it must occur in the classroom, because the classroom functioned as a gateway for student involvement in the academic and social communities of a college. Thus, the college classroom constitutes one possible source of influence on academic and social integration
Encourage student involvement with other students by emphasizing the value of peer studygroups.
Although research has indicated that effective interaction, either inside or outside the classroom, may lead ultimately to academic success for college students (Kuh, 1996, 2003; McKay & Estrella, 2008; Tinto, 2006 ), few faculty members have regular or frequent contact with students outside of classroom (Cox, McIntosh, Terenzini, Reason & Lutovsky Quaye, 2010).
Owens and Massey (2011) conducted a survey that involved 918 black and 794 Hispanic college freshmen who entered 28 selective 4-year colleges and universities in the United States in the fall of 1999 and found that social stigma could indeed have strong negative effects on the academic performance of stereotyped racial-minority group members. Teachers may also have assumptions that are tied to students' social identity characteristics Addressing the Increasing College Student Attrition Rate by Creating Effective Classroom Interaction 20 (i.e., gender, race, ethnicity, disability, language, or sexual orientation). The possibilities are that these assumptions manifest themselves in teachers' interactions with students. In some instances, teachers may need assistance in order to become aware of their assumptions (Saunders & Kardia, 2010). For example, teachers may be wrong in assuming that all students will seek help when they are having difficulties in a class. To address this issue effectively, teachers may ask students’ whose grades are below B after the first assignment to come and see them. This is one of the ways in which, the stigma attached to seeing teachers during office hours can be removed.
Instructors should aim at creating a sense of social support and community that first day to establish a base on which students can begin developing relationships with one another. Supportive relationships have been shown to help retention by preventing early withdrawal from the course (Wilcox, Winn & Fyview-Gauld 2005, Beder, 1997 and Thomas 2002). In turn, this supportive climate enhances learning. Yorke and Thomas (2003) and Forbes & Wickens (2005) have identified a strong social network as an aid to student retention. Social support is also helpful by attenuating stressful situations or preventing a negative response on the part of individual students (Cohen & Syme, 1985 p. 7).
The Habit of Retention
The Habit of Retention
• Discuss the “R” word (and other dirty words)
• Review research supported strategies
• Operationalize the strategies
• Integrate career and academic advising
• Improve student orientation
• Reassess Early Alert impact
• Provide a “My Learning Plan” tool for students
• Positive interactions with support personnel
• Reconsider teaching assignments
• Class right-sizing and program structure
• Faculty course related interactions
• Buddy-system in class
• Faculty competency
• Explicit expectations for involvement
• Active learning strategies
• Solicit course perceptions while class is in progress
• Provide student decision making with respect to course
• Relate coursework to student’s life purpose
• Peer study groups
• Awareness of social stigma and diversity issues
• Social network identification
• College social opportunities
• Frontload assistance and support opportunities
• Faculty/Student interactions
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