student success

5 Recommendations From the 2020 Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report

Mari NormyleAssistant Vice President for Retention SolutionsJuly 15, 2020

If there ever was a time for student success leaders to understand the motivational, non-cognitive factors influencing their entering students’ likelihood of being successful in college, it’s now!

By examining the latest data—and the trends over the last 5-10 years—clear patterns emerge of the resources students are identifying as essential to their success. The COVID-19 conditions under which students are beginning college only amplify the need for student success leaders to design their first-year experience programs based on data that includes motivational, non-cognitive indicators.

Last year, we looked at five-year trends in data collected from close to 100,000 entering first-year students who completed the RNL College Student Inventory.

While motivation to complete a college degree remains strong—95 percent of entering students report being strongly dedicated to earning a college degree—there is a decline in the perceived value of a degree:

This year, we extended our lens to observe ten year trends—2009-2019 in motivational indicators of student success. Here are the top 10 requests for assistance in 2019 compared with 2009:

We anticipate that the experience of COVID-19 will only amplify these interests and needs. What is the key “take away” from these insights?

5 strategies to meet the needs and expectations of your incoming students

As you plan to welcome your newest students to your campuses (either in-person or online), here are some recommendations:

  1. Build community—Start during the summer, as students begin their college days and intentionally, throughout the entire year.
  2. Provide meaningful career exploration opportunities for your first-year students from day one—Think of career development as a “eco-system” that students will encounter both in and outside the classroom, in their interactions with faculty, staff and alumni.
  3. Attend to the psychological needs of your first-year students—The 10-year trend data indicates an increase in students’ requests to talk with a counselor about their attitudes toward school, personal relationships, emotional tensions and discouraging feelings.
  4. Prepare a “re-enrollment” campaign that reinforces the value of earning a college degree and the resources at your institution that are committed to helping more students be successful.
  5. Lay a strong foundation for student success that includes a full first-year experience—Monitor growth and development of your first- year students over the first and second terms of their enrollment.

Download the 2020 Report

2020 Freshman Motivation to Complete ReportDownload the National Freshman Motivation to Complete Report to learn additional insights on first-generation students as well as the top priorities for second-year students.

Download Report

Want to explore how motivational assessment can enhance your student success efforts at your institution, improving retention and graduation rates? Schedule a walkthrough with us and we’ll show how RNL can help you get incoming students on the path to success.

About the Author

Dr. Mari K. Normyle, assistant vice president for retention solutions, works directly with colleges and universities throughout North America supporting student success and retention efforts through student motivation assessment and early alert programs. With more...

Read more about Mari's experience and expertise

Reach Mari by e-mail at

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