student success

Does student retention require a culture shift on your campus? Second part of a two-part article

Ruffalo Noel Levitz

June 18, 2014

This is the second part of a two-part article featuring excerpts from a popular Noel-Levitz white paper originally released in 2000, The Earth-Shaking But Quiet Revolution in Retention Management, by Randi Levitz and Lee Noel, founders of Noel-Levitz. Read the first part of the article here or download the original white paper.

Does student retention require a culture shift on your campus? Second part of a two-part article
Institutions must deliberately establish a plan to increase student retention.

Those of us who have been working in this field of student retention almost from the very beginning have learned a great deal. The main thing we have learned is that institutions must deliberately establish a plan to increase student retention. Retention does not just happen. Retention is something we can control. We have learned that this control comes when we put students squarely at the center of a campus. That is what it is all about today at the undergraduate level—thinking about students, understanding students, listening to students, figuring out who is in the classrooms, who is on the campuses. If an institution has residence halls, it needs to ask who is living in those residence halls. We need to move with students, learn with students, understand them and help them succeed. Institutions that put this kind of personal effort into effect can, in fact, experience a tremendous degree of student and institutional success. Retention improvement proceeds on two planes simultaneously—campuswide for all students and directly with individual students.

This necessarily requires a greater emphasis on assessment. Assessment helps us predict dropout-proneness before the student drops out, academic difficulty before it occurs, and educational stress before the student experiences it. It also helps us determine an incoming student’s receptivity to institutional help so we can leverage our time by intervening intensively with students who are likely to respond.

This approach is perhaps best termed “progressive responsibility.” It does not encourage everyone on campus to “hold students’ hands forever,” which is often the faculty’s greatest fear. However, it does advocate additional support to help students get off to a strong start. What it tries to do is provide “stepping stone” approaches so students get the support they need when they enter, thus securing a solid foundation from which to progress to greater degrees of responsibility and independence until they are able to stand independently.

Bringing about transformation: Moving beyond theory to action

To understand retention fully is to understand that we cannot do anything on a campus that in some way does not affect the institution’s ability to retain students. For example, as previously noted, recruiting and retention travel together. They are like intertwined strands of the same thread. First, we have to think about how we bring students to our campus and the mindsets and expectations we create as we recruit. Then we must apply what we’ve learned. This means moving beyond theory to action.

Institutions with the best retention rates change student behavior in ways that promote student success and retention. They:

  • Entrench the attitude that helping students “grow” is in fact the institution’s role;
  • Develop dropout prevention plans rather than wait to provide intensive care to students who are on the verge of total disengagement;
  • Design an academic support safety net with ongoing orientation, intensive, extended contact with advisors, and increased use of academic support services; and
  • Increase recognition and reward for teaching excellence

As a result, these institutions are taking twin approaches, bringing about changes in both institutional and student behaviors. This shift helps students move positively on a number of different scales:

  • Unmotivated to motivated
  • Unattached to attached
  • Undecided to making informed educational and vocational decisions
  • Dependent to independent
  • Underprepared to adequately prepared
  • Lack of goals to clear goals

What we are looking for is not just a change in the type of students we are recruiting or admitting, but a transformation in the students who come to us. This comes about as a result of changes in the way we think, work and act.

Download the original white paper here for the complete content, including several myths that must be debunked to make progress.

For more information and insights

Come to Chicago July 8-10, 2014, for the Noel-Levitz National Conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention, where you can choose from presentations such as:

  • Mentoring and Mentoring Programs: Powerful Tools for Engaging and Retaining Students
  • From Swirl to Success: How to Make Your College the Final Destination for Transfer Students
  • Enhancing Student Success by Identifying and Re-Recruiting Stopouts, Dropouts, and Re-admits
  • Adult Undergraduates in 2014 and Beyond: Profiles, Priorities, and Paths to Persistence and Success That Guide Their Decision-Making Processes
  • The Academic Success Program: A New Intervention Model That Doubles the Retention Rate of Students on Academic Probation

See the conference agenda and register.

Looking for guidance on building a successful student retention foundation?

Email Noel-Levitz or call 1-800-876-1117 and ask to speak to our student retention team. We can discuss any topic on student retention and completion, including planning, student motivational assessment, early alert and intervention, academic advising, first-year experience, second-year transition, and student satisfaction and priorities assessment.


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