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Old Dominion University (VA)

Retention rate improves to 82 percent, graduation rates reach highest levels in recent school history

"Incorporating the Student Retention Predictor™ into our Success Continuum initiatives has helped us improve our retention rate to 82 percent as well as realize the highest four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates in our recent history. We are also seeing improvement in time-to-degree. In just one year, we've seen students increase their hours completed by 1.5 credits."
Jane Dané
Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management

Background: Serving diverse students
Contrary to its name, Old Dominion University (Old Dominion) is quite young. It was established in 1930 and is a public research university in Norfolk, Virginia. The university enrolls approximately 25,000 students, with 20,000 undergraduate students and 5,000 graduate students on a residential campus. Its freshman class numbers are close to 3,000 students who have a very diverse background, including traditional and non-traditional freshmen, transfer students, distance learners, adult, and military students; 27 percent of these students are Pell eligible.

Student success initiatives
As a framework for its commitment to doing everything possible to ensure student success, Old Dominion has created a Success Continuum that begins with the student’s first contact with the university and follows the students through all enrollment stages, to graduation and beyond. Various teams throughout campus work at each stage of the continuum to assist students. The university’s approach is based on data-informed strategies which include predictive models, identified risk factors, collaborative planning, targeted interventions, and assessment of the results to inform future planning. A culture of collaboration permeates the numerous committees entrusted with helping students.

Initially, a predictive model provided by the Student Retention Predictor™ (SRP) produced a snapshot of risks facing the incoming freshman class. These risks became critical pieces in forming the retention plan. While the risks tended to include the typical alerts focusing on academic preparation, financial need, social integration, and educational aspiration, a deeper look found important results. For example, in terms of academic preparation and the high school GPA, the breakpoint was a grade point average of 3.0; that is, students with a high school GPA below 3.0 were at higher risk of attrition. The university also focused on students who did not have as much of their package funded (Percent of Need Met). In addition, students who were late entrants into the admission cycle received extra attention to meet their needs (No. of Days as Admit). Further factors such as Distance from Campus and the type of Residence Hall pointed to a need for better social integration, while first-generation students received assistance in finding their direction in the university setting.

The moment the incoming class was scored with the retention model, an attrition curve was created that showed the distribution of students along the retention score range. While students with the lowest retention model scores were at the highest risk of attrition, the university has been very successful at outperforming the expectations of these students in the highest risk band. Rather than solely focusing on the students in the middle bands of the attrition curve, the university is paying attention to all its students and it is working well.

Outcomes
All of the hard work at Old Dominion is certainly paying off. The retention rate, which had been at 80 percent for several years in a row, increased to 81 percent for the class of 2013 and 82 percent for the class of 2014. In addition, the university is enjoying the highest four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates in recent history. Another area that is of critical importance to the university is time-to-degree; the university has been able to change the culture on campus to help students take more credit hours to decrease their time-to-degree. In just one year, students have increased their credit hours completed by 1.5 credits.

Postlude: An example of successful collaboration
While the university has many initiatives that support student success, one strategy was created for students who come from more than 150 miles away. It all started when the latest SRP model and specific risk factors for the entering class were introduced to student engagement and enrollment service unit directors. Gathering one day in August with doughnuts and coffee, the associate vice president for enrollment management introduced the issues and said, “Let’s have a competition. Let’s divide into groups and have a Shark Tank approach on who can come up with the most creative intervention that works within our limited resources.”

Improving the retention rates of students from more than 150 miles away won the competition. “All Roads Lead to ODU” became the theme, and strategies were able to be introduced immediately by collaboratively making use of several programs that already existed in numerous departments on campus. The first event was a kickoff dinner that was very “southern style.” A targeted group of first-year students was invited to attend, along with staff and targeted second-year students. The new students that attended were able to make connections with each other, with upper class students, and with key campus staff—building relationships in every direction.

Following the kick-off dinner, students participated in a cruise down the Elizabeth River. They were introduced to the area and branched out further with excursions to Washington, DC, and Williamsburg, Virginia. Additionally:

  • A Challenge Course was offered for people who wanted to become a little more competitive with their recreational skills.
  • The Homecoming Parade highlighted a float that celebrated “state pride” from freshman students.
  • At a home basketball game, the out-of-state students wore their t-shirts with the “All Roads Lead to ODU” symbol, and at half-time they were celebrated on the court.
  • Four alternative spring break events targeted out-of-state students, as well as others, giving students, for example, the opportunity to go to Moab, Utah or Miami, Florida—not the “traditional” Miami spring break, but to work with a youth program.

The “All Roads Lead to ODU” program is designed to give freshmen a lot of opportunities to make connections on campus—that is what this program is all about. And there is nothing like a big celebration at the end of the year to be able to highlight some of the activities that people have enjoyed with their new friends from across the freshman class.

Case study published with the permission of Old Dominion University.

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