- Only 60% of student services positively impact student retention, according to a new analysis of more than 1,000 initiatives across 55 colleges from Civitas Learning.
- Of the remaining 40% initiatives that had a "neutral impact," however, 15% of participating students saw a lift in their persistence rates.
- The news follows recent studies that suggest colleges can make a bigger impact by personalizing their messaging to address students' biggest needs.
Looming enrollment declines and persistent equity gaps are prompting colleges to do more to help the students they have complete college. Those pressures have resulted in many institutions ramping up their student services, but it can be difficult to determine which initiatives are working and which aren't.
Several strategies have emerged to help colleges do just that. For example, Civitas offers a tool to help colleges to see the effects that specific initiatives have on persistence. And other groups have provided strategies for determining which programs colleges should invest in and what metrics they should look for when reviewing big initiatives.
Civitas' analysis pointed to several services that lift persistence rates between three and six percentage points, including advisor meetings, supplemental instruction, scholarships and tutoring.
Moreover, the analysis found some initiatives had a greater impact on certain student populations. For example, advisor meetings resulted in a nearly seven percentage point bump in persistence rates for Hispanic students, compared to a 5.8 percentage point lift for students overall.
Beyond the report, Utah State University has found that volunteering in student leadership opportunities had a greater effect on freshmen's retention rates than other students.
"There's not one program or one initiative that's going to do it for everyone," said Mitchell Colver, founding manager and senior data analyst for the university's Center for Student Analytics. "It's about having a healthy student ecosystem that supports students from many different nodes of the institution and in many different ways."
It can be particularly important to understand those differences when assessing programs that don't appear to affect overall persistence rates, said Mark Milliron, co-founder and chief learning officer of Civitas Learning.
"There are times I think when we report on research and we get pretty binary," he said. "When you get underneath that, you find out it's more complicated."
Such analysis has helped the University of South Florida close some of its own equity gaps. Using big data and analytics, the college targeted services to certain student populations and, in the process, raised its first-year retention rate to 91%.
Utah State and the U of South Florida both use Civitas.
Accomplishing that has required the university to rethink how it assesses student service initiatives, said USF's Paul Dosal, the university's vice president for student success.
Previously, he said, the university may have only reviewed programs after they were completed or conducted studies that took months to determine what happened to the students who left the school.
"That's an old practice that needs to change," he said. "It doesn't help me much to know six months later where the students went. I need to identify them before they leave."