Assessing students after their first term: The value of mid-year assessment in student progression

Beth Richter

December 6, 2010

Beth Richter discusses why mid-year student assessment is an important part of any college student retention iniative and how that data can shape future student success efforts.
Beth Richter, associate vice president of retention solutions at Noel-Levitz, works directly with colleges and universities nationwide in student retention. In particular, Dr. Richter provides service and leadership to educators seeking to foster student success and enact early intervention programs through the Retention Management System Plus™.

In recent decades, many campuses have embraced the value of early intervention programs informed through motivational assessment. Assessing the motivations and attitudes of the incoming class helps educators connect incoming students with the most relevant campus resources – a pronounced benefit as enrollments increase at a more intense level than do the accompanying campus resources. Simultaneously, this proactive strategy helps students to acknowledge their own strengths and challenges, while gaining understanding of what is needed to secure a stronger footing as they set out on their journey through college with their goals in mind.

It’s common knowledge that the first term of college is often a transformational experience, which can swing either positively or negatively. And, given the growth and adjustment that occurs during the first term of college, it’s not surprising that attitudes and motivations can shift dramatically over the course of a few months, from the time students first arrive on campus and the end of the first term. In this era of economic uncertainty, these changes may be compounded by the shifts students are experiencing not only personally and academically in college, but also in their family, social, or financial situations.

Without a doubt, the precarious juncture half-way through the first year of college represents an important checkpoint, to manage through timely assessment and proactive intervention. In this light, conducting a mid-year student assessment is a valuable strategy for reconnecting with first-year students and reaffirming your commitment to their success. Additionally, mid-year assessment provides pertinent data for justifying your early intervention programs, which are arguably more important than ever given the value of retention as an enrollment strategy. (See www.noellevitz.com/estimate)

Reassessing students after the first term allows you to:

  • Measure changes during their first term
  • Ascertain the current college plans of students, uncovering their plans to return and continue their educations
  • Add acknowledged data to the observed data (e.g. attendance, grades) collected during the first semester
  • Provide opportunities to engage students in the services they request
  • Determine which campus services are most utilized
  • Establish benchmarks for end-of-term progress.

As a natural corollary, and much like motivational assessment at the beginning of the first term, mid-year student assessment provides opportunities and data for analysis, planning, and action. For instance, you can use information from mid-year assessment to:

  • Reprioritize your interventions

Changes in motivation can reveal which student will need the greatest assistance to persist to the end of their first term.

  • Identify immediate flags for attrition

Simply asking students about their plans for the following term and beyond can reveal which students are at greatest risk.

  • Inform dialogue during the second-term

Advisors and retention counselors can continue their communications with students using updated, more relevant information.

  • Guide future resource planning and retention strategies

Understanding which resources and methods have been most beneficial to students offers an invaluable opportunity to reallocate limited student resources.

In short, increases in the number of students, the lack of student preparation, and economic uncertainty that can undermine college completion make mid-year assessment a growing necessity. After the amount of effort and positive value campuses devote toward student assessment at the start of the first term, it makes sense for institutions to follow up with students to ensure they remain on a solid path toward their academic, personal, and career goals. In this context, mid-year checkpoints provide a springboard for relevant interventions in the second term.

If you have questions or ideas about how you can extend your reach throughout the first year, please leave a comment below, or contact me via e-mail. I also will be discussing early-alert programs and mid-year student assessment during a free Webinar, How We Retain More Students By Intervening Earlier, on February 22, 2011.

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Enrollment, Student Success