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Developing a Student Retention Plan


'You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille'- Kenny Rogers ' ... I'm leavin' on a jet plane John Denver. Even more important quotes ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Developing a Student Retention Plan

Developing a Student Retention Plan
  • Dr Jim Elliott
  • START Manager
  • (Student Transition and Retention Team)
  • Curtin University of Technology

Some important quotes
  • Dont it always seem to go that you dont know
    what youve got till its gone? Joni Mitchell
  • You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille-
    Kenny Rogers
  • There must be 50 ways to leave your university
    - apologies to Paul Simon
  • Im leavin on a jet plane John Denver

Even more important quotes
  • Where are those happy days, they seem so far
    away? Abba
  • God help me, I was only 19 Redgum
  • Turn on, tune in, drop out Timothy Leary

Retention is important to the University
  • Money money money Losing our students means
  • recruitment costs are wasted PLUS
  • a loss of future fee and other income
  • Our jobs can be on the line
  • recruit too few or lose too many students, and
    suddenly you dont need so many teachers and
    other staff

Retention is important to the University
  • Reputation students who leave without
    completing a degree may not have good stories to

Retention is important to the University
  • Duty of Care and ethical considerations
  • Offering a place means we think the student has
    the potential to succeed.
  • We should ensure the educational setting gives
    them the best chance.
  • Some students (especially those from
    disadvantaged backgrounds) will need additional
  • Any student can become an at-risk student at
    any time for reasons beyond their control.

What do the retention data mean?
  • Retained by whom? There are different figures
    depending on whether the measure is
  • retention by the whole university,
  • the faculty, or
  • the enrolling school within the faculty.

What do the retention data mean?
  • Retained over what time period?
  • The traditional measure is the proportion of
    students enrolled in the subsequent calendar year
    (excluding those who have completed.)
  • BUT - the date that the measure is taken will
    lead to a different figure. E.G. A measure in
    late January will yield different data than one
    taken immediately after the census date.
  • The calendar year measure implies that the
    quickest possible progression through a degree is
    the most desirable. That may not be so for all

What do the retention data mean?
  • Retaining whom?
  • There are different figures for
  • commencing, continuing, domestic, international,
    male and female, part-time, full-time,
    mature-aged, school leaver, standard entry,
    non-standard entry, and so forth.
  • Measures of some potential target groups are very
    hard to come by.
  • If ATSI, Rural/isolated, students with
    disabilities do not self-identify, we have no
    information about them

How much retention is good enough anyway?
  • 100 retention is neither possible or desirable
  • Nonetheless we believe that some of those who do
    not persist could have continued if only there
    had been a timely and appropriate intervention.
  • But we have little idea what the target should be
  • So we tend to set arbitrary targets.
  • And then start thinking what a timely and
    appropriate intervention might be.

We do know something about our retention rates…
  • We retain more International than Domestic
    students but it is not a huge difference.
  • The highest attrition is in Humanities,
    Engineering and Science and the Centre for
    Aboriginal Studies (CAS) plus some specific
    courses elsewhere.
  • The schools which show higher levels of attrition
    for International students do not necessarily
    coincide with areas of high attrition for
    domestic students.

We do know something about our retention rates…
  • External students generally have higher attrition
    than Internal. The disparity is worst in
    Humanities and Curtin Business School.
  • Gender Where there is a large disparity between
    male and female enrolments, the minority group
    appears at greater risk of attrition. Otherwise,
    there appear to be few obvious marked gender
  • Age Older students are very clearly more at risk
    than younger students. This applies across all
    divisions, all campuses and nearly all courses.
    The higher level of risk of attrition for mature
    aged students is the clearest variable in the
    retention data.

We do know something about our retention rates…
  • Commencing students versus continuing students
    There is significant attrition amongst students
    from 2nd year onwards retention is not simply a
    1st year issue.
  • 1st year is still the biggest single source of
  • Entry via standard TER versus non standard TER
    Non standard TER students appear at greater risk
    of attrition. The biggest disparity between the
    two entry modes is in Engineering and Science and

We do know something about our retention rates…
  • Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) Students
    admitted with significant RPL are often placed
    into the 2nd year of a course after completion of
    study elsewhere. The data indicate that there is
    little difference in retention rates between the
    two groups.
  • However, strong anecdotal evidence seems to
    support an opposite conclusion.
  • Rural versus metro The commonly held view that
    rural students may be at greater risk is not
  • ATSI students not enrolled in the CAS Attrition
    rates are higher than other students but are
    better than CAS students.

What do these data suggest?
  • There is no single retention issue, and therefore
    no single intervention that will fix things
  • Student retention is a multi-variable interacting
  • By having a big proportion of mature-aged
    students, Curtin has a larger number of at-risk
    students. Recruiting a different kind of student
    population is very unlikely to be an effective
    strategy. Retention interventions have to work
    with the student population that we actually
  • We should consider
  • Generalised interventions that benefit all
  • Targeted interventions aimed at specific
  • Specific student retention initiatives at
    enrolling area level

We need to get organised
  • Addressing student retention should be tackled
  • The role of Student Retention Manager (now
    retitled START manager) was established in late
    2006 to oversee the development of a retention

Engaging key stakeholders in support of the
  • Retention is an issue for the whole university
  • Retention should not be seen to be a function of
    a specialist support area.
  • To engage the wider university community, a
    Retention Plan Steering Committee was established

Retention Plan Steering Committee
  • Student Transition and Retention Team (START)
    Manager as chairperson
  • University Support Services Director
  • First Year Experience/Transition Coordinator
  • Faculty Deans of Teaching and Learning
  • Regional Campus representative
  • Student Services Director
  • International Office representative
  • Pro-Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning
  • Student Learning Support Centre representative
  • The Student Guild President
  • Guild Student Assist Department representative

The tasks of the Steering Group
  • Task One Overview Curtin Retention data in
    context of a wider theoretical understanding of
    student retention
  • What characteristics are shown in the retention
  • What do these data suggest for key target areas
    for retention planning?
  • Task Two Review of the resources and programs
    that Curtin already has in place to address

The tasks of the Steering Group
  • Task Three Identification of critical gaps in
    retention resources and programs
  • Task Four Development of a Draft Retention Plan
  • Task Five Identification of key goals for
    implementation 2008-2010
  • At the time of writing, the Steering Group is at
    Task Four in this process.

Assessing existing retention strategies
  • There are already many activities/programs that
    impact on retention
  • These had never been formally assessed as a
    cohesive group. Some were not widely known at
    all within the University
  • They were mapped against the variables in Tintos
    (1993) model
  • See examples at http//
  • This process suggested the gaps that needed

Identifying potential new student retention
  • A large number of potential strategies were
    listed by the Steering Group
  • These were ranked on
  • Potential Impact whether the proposed retention
    strategy would make a significant difference to
  • Difficulty in Implementation the complexity of
    the strategy/intervention and the level of
    resourcing required.
  • Urgency how soon the university should make a
    start on implementing the proposed retention

The short listed strategies
  • A group of highest ranked strategies have been
  • They are publicised to staff at
  • After wider staff and student input, these will
    be developed into a formal plan

Meanwhile we have not been sitting on our hands
  • 2007 gave us an opportunity to try out some
    retention strategies.
  • Development of a New-to-Curtin web site This
    site is now functional at http//www.unilife.curti It carries
    information specifically relevant to new students
    in their transition to university.
  • A Timed E-Newsletter to new students Eight
    Newsletters (hosted on the New-to-Curtin site)
    are delivered at various appropriate times during

Trial retention strategies
  • A Revised Orientation Program There was
    significant revision of what is delivered as a
    central program and what is delivered at
    enrolling school level.
  • An Orientation and Transition Best Practice
    Checklist has been established for staff at

Trial retention strategies
  • Collaborative programs with specific schools
    Occupational Therapy, Multimedia Design, Social
    Work, Art, Education and Nursing Midwifery.
  • The pilot programs include
  • mentoring,
  • regular email contact with new students,
  • early alert and referral by staff of at-risk
  • drop-ins by retention staff,
  • contact with students on Conditional status,
  • in-house workshops and forums.

Trial retention strategies
  • An on-line process for staff to refer at risk
    students to staff of the Retention Project The
    on-line referral form allows staff to refer
    students who appear to be struggling to staff in
    the Retention Project with the intention of
    connecting students to the appropriate source of
    help within the University.
  • Further details are at http//

Trial retention strategies
  • The Dont Drop Out, Drop In Campaign The
    slogan, web button (leading to a portal of all
    support services at http//
    and poster campaign was launched in week three
    of Semester One just before the census date.
  • Aims to raise awareness of sources of help for
    students and staff

Trial retention strategies
  • Addressing the needs of students on Conditional
    status Students who are placed on Conditional
    status have already demonstrated a significant
    level of risk in their studies.
  • An information resource for these students has
    been created at http//
  • This has contributed to University-wide plans to
    introduce a new process in 2008 which will aim to
    require these students to submit a Returning to
    Good Standing action plan.

Trial retention strategies
  • Making contact with students who left the
    University in 2006 without completing a
    qualification A letter was sent all domestic
    students who did not re-enrol (other than those
    who were terminated) by letter in July. The
    letter offered contact and advice to facilitate
    re-entry to the University. In addition, this
    process requested students to complete an on-line
    survey giving their reasons for not re-enrolling.
  • Unfortunately, this process got almost no
  • We will try a different approach in 2008 to
    contact these former students.

Trial retention strategies
  • Creating a Retention Resource web site for staff
    a dedicated website which includes a function as
    an information portal has been created for staff
    at http//

Performance Indicators
  • How would we know if we are making any
  • The obvious candidate is to re-examine retention
  • Because the retention rate is a lagging statistic
    with all the weakness previously mentioned, we
    also need other measures

Performance Indicators
  • We can use measures from the various retention
  • Examples include
  • Evaluation data from mentor programs (both from
    mentors and mentees)
  • O Week evaluation data
  • Usage rates of retention websites
  • Data from support service areas contacts with new
    students and at-risk students.
  • Evaluation data and participation rates in
    specific retention programs

Its all very complicated!
  • Dealing with a multi-variable issue with multiple
    interventions whilst aiming at a fuzzily-defined
    target aint so easy…

2008 Priorities
  • Widen the mentor programs
  • Consolidate the New-to-Curtin E Newsletter and
    related transition activities
  • Focus on early identification and intervention
    with at-risk students