student success

How Three Institutions Are Raising Retention Rates by Prioritizing Student Interventions

Mari Normyle

Assistant Vice President for Retention Solutions

January 30, 2019

We hosted a webinar featuring colleagues from three institutions sharing their student success strategies and the results they are achieving (you can watch the recording here). The featured institutions—all very different from one another, but representative of our national higher education landscape—were Christopher Newport University (Virginia), Lorain County Community College (Ohio), and Maryville University (Missouri). 

Prioritizing Student Interventions
Prioritizing student interventions is one of the best strategies for increasing student retention and graduation rates.

While these institutions are quite different from one another, their student success strategies had key factors in common.

  • Over time, they’ve created a culture of support for their student success efforts—support both vertically (from the top down) and broadly (collaboration across divisions).
  • They are always assessing and improving and they’re not afraid to try new things—sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t—but continuous improvement is part of their ethos.
  • These institutions used data to drive their activities—data from the College Student Inventory, Mid-Year Student Assessment, Second-Year Student Assessment, and other sources—for individual student interactions as well as shaping their programming and outreach efforts.
  • They set their sights on not just improving first-to-second year retention rates but their completion/graduation rates as well—building intentional and structured support across the student lifecycle.

Here are some highlights from each of the institution’s presentations.

Christopher Newport University utilizes motivational assessments for first- and second-year students, as well as predictive analytics, to identify at-risk students and the areas in which these students are seeking assistance. They use an intrusive, holistic advising model, and their faculty advisors are well trained and equipped to work with their first- and second-year students until they move to their major advisors. Intensive Learning Communities, a virtual bridge program imbedded in a 3-credit-hour course for new “at-risk” freshmen, and expansion of career development programming for first- and second-year students, are some of the other effective strategies that have had an impact.  CNU has seen a nearly 12 percent increase in retention rates, a 40 percent increase in four-year graduation rates, and a 22 percent increase in six-year graduation rates, while also reducing the number of first-year students in academic jeopardy, raising the freshmen GPA, and increasing the number of students with academic honors after the first term.

Lorain County Community College has embraced a wide range of carefully planned and executed strategies to produce impressive results, including:

  • Redesigning their advising program and making advising mandatory
  • Restructuring the onboarding process and requiring students to attend an orientation program (either on campus or online), as well as completing the College Student Inventory during their orientation, which advisors use in their first meetings with their students
  • Embedding a completion plan assignment for all students to develop in their College 101 course
  • Adopting a co-requisite model for English and math
  • Advisors follow up on every early alert and withdrawal notification
  • Lowering the number of credit hours to complete a degree
  • Redesigning their developmental education program.

All of their efforts have led to a 79 percent increase in credentials awarded since 2011, a 7 percent reduction in the credits-to-degree, and a 213 percent increase in the IPEDS graduation rate with the 2008-15 cohorts, from 8 percent to 25 percent.

Maryville University shared one of the most innovative student success programs I’ve seen—a Life Coaching program that assigns a Life Coach (professional staff) to each incoming student. This coaching relationship lasts until the student graduates. The coaching includes helping students make academic connections, personalized resources, career development, individual assessments (including gauging students’ motivational risks and receptivity from the College Student Inventory and the Mid-Year Student Assessment), course selection and registration as well as social integration.  They, too, have seen improvement in their retention and graduation rates, as well as a greater emphasis on career readiness.

Hear more details and take a big step toward increasing student success by prioritizing student interventions

I hope these examples spark an interest in you to explore these findings and strategies further. I encourage you to:


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 Mari.Normyle@RuffaloNL.com.


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Student Success