student success

What Are the Characteristics of Great Student Success Programs?

Janene Panfil

Senior Vice President for Retention Solutions

December 18, 2018

Great student success programs help colleges and universities fulfill their fundamental missions: to help students progress, persist, and complete their educations. They should be celebrated for the results they achieve. Which is why Ruffalo Noel Levitz created the Lee Noel-Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Awards.

Established in 1989, these awards recognize the most successful, state-of-the-art retention programs in use at many kinds of institutions. Winners are selected by a national panel of leading retention practitioners.

Saint Louis University was one of four campuses honored for having great student success programs.
Saint Louis University receiving their 2018 REA Award from RNL CEO Sumit Nijhawan (right). Hear about the great student success programs of their institution and three others at our upcoming webinar.

What are the characteristics of these great student success programs that have won Retention Excellence Awards? In 2018, RNL honored four exemplary programs, and the winners will share how their programs work and the success they have had at an upcoming national webinar.

  • Palo Alto College of the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, Texas, was honored for its Advising Scorecard and AlamoADVISE case management advising structure. The institution serves a student population that is nearly 80 percent Hispanic, and 60 percent of the students receive some form of financial aid. To increase the student success, the college provides students with a personalized pathway to success through academic and career advising, with advising contact scheduled at key milestones during a student’s career. The program has spurred a 7 percent increase in first-to-second-year persistence and a 22 percent increase in four-year graduation rates compared to rates 10 years ago.
  • Augustana University of South Dakota created a new retention model that embeds extra support and retention-focused resources in students’ day-to-day experiences. Among its retention initiatives, all students are required to attend plenary sessions throughout the academic year and expected to participate in tailored events of their choosing. The university also developed additional measures including first-quarter grade checks and completing written reflections focused on transition and vocation issues. As a result of these efforts, the university saw a 5.5 percentage point increase in fall-to-fall first-time, full-time freshman retention, reaching 26.2 percent for its 2016 cohort.
  • Saint Louis University received the award for the efforts of its Retention and Student Success Council (RSSC). The RSSC oversees the university’s retention plan, and council has implemented more than 30 program, policy, and system changes for the institution in the last eight years. In that time, Saint Louis University has achieved historic levels of first-to-second-year retention rates and graduation rates. Furthermore, by increasing its four-year graduation rate and having more students graduate more quickly, the university reduced average student loan debt by $5,600 per student.
  • The University of Utah developed the Student Success Advocates (SSAs) program four years ago to provide students with individualized, holistic support. The SSAs are professional staff members who use their knowledge of college student development theory to work with individual students over time through consistent follow-up. During 2016-17, the university’s SSAs had more than 29,000 interactions with students, with the SSAs making more than 12,000 referrals to campus partners. No other office at the University of Utah has this commitment to following up with every student.

By attending this webinar, you can learn directly from each winner about how they overcame barriers to get institutional buy-in, staffing, funding, and support for these programs.  For more ideas, you can review winning programs back to 1989 in our Compendium of Retention Excellence Award Winners and utilize the wealth of national benchmark data and research papers we provide to support your efforts.

Applications accepted now through March 22, 2019 for Ruffalo Noel Levitz Retention Excellence Awards

If you would like to be recognized like these great student success programs have been, please apply for a 2019 Lee Noel and Randi Levitz Retention Excellence Award.  The application is brief and is similar to submitting a proposal to present at a conference. Up to three winners will be recognized. The honor includes a free conference registration to the Ruffalo Noel Levitz National Conference being held in Nashville, July 24-26, 2019. Winners are featured in a national webinar hosted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, and will serve as a judge in selecting the 2020 winners. Visit the REA page to apply.

Questions? Please email me or call me at 800.876.1117.

Find even more great strategies and research

Download our compendium of great student success programs
Visit our page on student retention papers and research to find numerous trend reports and white papers, including:


About the Author

Janene Panfil serves Ruffalo Noel Levitz as senior vice president for retention solutions, offering more than 25 years of hands-on leadership and experience in student retention and assessment. She provides vision and direction for the...

Read more about Janene's experience and expertise

Reach Janene by e-mail at Janene.Panfil@RuffaloNL.com.


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Student Success