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Developing a Student Retention Plan Dr Jim Elliott START Manager (Student Transition and Retention Team) Curtin University of Technology.

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Presentation on theme: "Developing a Student Retention Plan Dr Jim Elliott START Manager (Student Transition and Retention Team) Curtin University of Technology."— Presentation transcript:

1 Developing a Student Retention Plan Dr Jim Elliott START Manager (Student Transition and Retention Team) Curtin University of Technology

2 Some important quotes “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” – Joni Mitchell “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?” – Joni Mitchell “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille”- Kenny Rogers “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille”- Kenny Rogers “There must be 50 ways to leave your university” - apologies to Paul Simon “There must be 50 ways to leave your university” - apologies to Paul Simon I’m leavin’ on a jet plane – John Denver I’m leavin’ on a jet plane – John Denver

3 Even more important quotes Where are those happy days, they seem so far away?” – Abba Where are those happy days, they seem so far away?” – Abba “God help me, I was only 19” – Redgum “God help me, I was only 19” – Redgum Turn on, tune in, drop out” – Timothy Leary Turn on, tune in, drop out” – Timothy Leary

4 Retention is important to the University Money money money: Losing our students means Money money money: Losing our students means recruitment costs are wasted PLUS recruitment costs are wasted PLUS a loss of future fee and other income a loss of future fee and other income Our jobs can be on the line: Our jobs can be on the line: recruit too few or lose too many students, and suddenly you don’t need so many teachers and other staff recruit too few or lose too many students, and suddenly you don’t need so many teachers and other staff

5 Retention is important to the University Reputation – students who leave without completing a degree may not have good stories to tell Reputation – students who leave without completing a degree may not have good stories to tell

6 Retention is important to the University Duty of Care and ethical considerations – Duty of Care and ethical considerations – Offering a place means we think the student has the potential to succeed. Offering a place means we think the student has the potential to succeed. We should ensure the educational setting gives them the best chance. We should ensure the educational setting gives them the best chance. Some students (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) will need additional resources. Some students (especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds) will need additional resources. Any student can become an “at-risk” student at any time for reasons beyond their control. Any student can become an “at-risk” student at any time for reasons beyond their control.

7 What do the retention data mean? Retained by whom? There are different figures depending on whether the measure is: Retained by whom? There are different figures depending on whether the measure is: retention by the whole university, retention by the whole university, the faculty, or the faculty, or the enrolling school within the faculty. the enrolling school within the faculty.

8 What do the retention data mean? Retained over what time period? Retained over what time period? The traditional measure is the proportion of students enrolled in the subsequent calendar year (excluding those who have completed.) The traditional measure is the proportion of students enrolled in the subsequent calendar year (excluding those who have completed.) BUT - the date that the measure is taken will lead to a different figure. E.G. A measure in late January will yield different data than one taken immediately after the census date. BUT - the date that the measure is taken will lead to a different figure. E.G. A measure in late January will yield different data than one taken immediately after the census date. The calendar year measure implies that the quickest possible progression through a degree is the most desirable. That may not be so for all students. The calendar year measure implies that the quickest possible progression through a degree is the most desirable. That may not be so for all students.

9 What do the retention data mean? Retaining whom? Retaining whom? There are different figures for: There are different figures for: commencing, continuing, domestic, international, male and female, part-time, full-time, mature-aged, school leaver, standard entry, non-standard entry, and so forth. commencing, continuing, domestic, international, male and female, part-time, full-time, mature-aged, school leaver, standard entry, non-standard entry, and so forth. Measures of some potential target groups are very hard to come by. If ATSI, Rural/isolated, students with disabilities do not self-identify, we have no information about them

10 How much retention is good enough anyway? 100% retention is neither possible or desirable 100% retention is neither possible or desirable Nonetheless –we believe that some of those who do not persist could have continued if only there had been a timely and appropriate intervention. Nonetheless –we believe that some of those who do not persist could have continued if only there had been a timely and appropriate intervention. But we have little idea what the target should be But we have little idea what the target should be So we tend to set arbitrary targets. So we tend to set arbitrary targets. And then start thinking what a “timely and appropriate intervention” might be. And then start thinking what a “timely and appropriate intervention” might be.

11 We do know something about our retention rates… We retain more International than Domestic students – but it is not a huge difference. We retain more International than Domestic students – but it is not a huge difference. The highest attrition is in Humanities, Engineering and Science and the Centre for Aboriginal Studies (CAS) plus some specific courses elsewhere. The highest attrition is in Humanities, Engineering and Science and the Centre for Aboriginal Studies (CAS) plus some specific courses elsewhere. The schools which show higher levels of attrition for International students do not necessarily coincide with areas of high attrition for domestic students. The schools which show higher levels of attrition for International students do not necessarily coincide with areas of high attrition for domestic students.

12 We do know something about our retention rates… External students generally have higher attrition than Internal. The disparity is worst in Humanities and Curtin Business School. External students generally have higher attrition than Internal. The disparity is worst in Humanities and Curtin Business School. Gender: Where there is a large disparity between male and female enrolments, the minority group appears at greater risk of attrition. Otherwise, there appear to be few obvious marked gender differences Gender: Where there is a large disparity between male and female enrolments, the minority group appears at greater risk of attrition. Otherwise, there appear to be few obvious marked gender differences Age: Older students are very clearly more at risk than younger students. This applies across all divisions, all campuses and nearly all courses. The higher level of risk of attrition for mature aged students is the clearest variable in the retention data. Age: Older students are very clearly more at risk than younger students. This applies across all divisions, all campuses and nearly all courses. The higher level of risk of attrition for mature aged students is the clearest variable in the retention data.

13 We do know something about our retention rates… Commencing students versus continuing students: There is significant attrition amongst students from 2nd year onwards –retention is not simply a 1st year issue. Commencing students versus continuing students: There is significant attrition amongst students from 2nd year onwards –retention is not simply a 1st year issue. 1st year is still the biggest single source of loss. 1st year is still the biggest single source of loss. Entry via standard TER versus non standard TER: Non standard TER students appear at greater risk of attrition. The biggest disparity between the two entry modes is in Engineering and Science and Humanities. Entry via standard TER versus non standard TER: Non standard TER students appear at greater risk of attrition. The biggest disparity between the two entry modes is in Engineering and Science and Humanities.

14 We do know something about our retention rates… Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL): Students admitted with significant RPL are often placed into the 2nd year of a course after completion of study elsewhere. The data indicate that there is little difference in retention rates between the two groups. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL): Students admitted with significant RPL are often placed into the 2nd year of a course after completion of study elsewhere. The data indicate that there is little difference in retention rates between the two groups. However, strong anecdotal evidence seems to support an opposite conclusion. However, strong anecdotal evidence seems to support an opposite conclusion. Rural versus metro : The commonly held view that rural students may be at greater risk is not shown. Rural versus metro : The commonly held view that rural students may be at greater risk is not shown. ATSI students not enrolled in the CAS: Attrition rates are higher than other students – but are better than CAS students. ATSI students not enrolled in the CAS: Attrition rates are higher than other students – but are better than CAS students.

15 What do these data suggest? There is no single retention issue, and therefore no single intervention that will “fix’ things There is no single retention issue, and therefore no single intervention that will “fix’ things Student retention is a multi-variable interacting issue Student retention is a multi-variable interacting issue By having a big proportion of mature-aged students, Curtin has a larger number of at-risk students. Recruiting a different kind of student population is very unlikely to be an effective strategy. Retention interventions have to work with the student population that we actually have. By having a big proportion of mature-aged students, Curtin has a larger number of at-risk students. Recruiting a different kind of student population is very unlikely to be an effective strategy. Retention interventions have to work with the student population that we actually have. We should consider: We should consider: Generalised interventions that benefit all students Generalised interventions that benefit all students Targeted interventions aimed at specific populations Targeted interventions aimed at specific populations Specific student retention initiatives at enrolling area level Specific student retention initiatives at enrolling area level

16 We need to get organised Addressing student retention should be tackled systemically Addressing student retention should be tackled systemically The role of Student Retention Manager (now retitled START manager) was established in late 2006 to oversee the development of a retention plan. The role of Student Retention Manager (now retitled START manager) was established in late 2006 to oversee the development of a retention plan.

17 Engaging key stakeholders in support of the process Retention is an issue for the whole university community. Retention is an issue for the whole university community. Retention should not be seen to be a function of a specialist support area. Retention should not be seen to be a function of a specialist support area. To engage the wider university community, a Retention Plan Steering Committee was established To engage the wider university community, a Retention Plan Steering Committee was established

18 Retention Plan Steering Committee Student Transition and Retention Team (START) Manager as chairperson Student Transition and Retention Team (START) Manager as chairperson University Support Services Director University Support Services Director First Year Experience/Transition Coordinator First Year Experience/Transition Coordinator Faculty Deans of Teaching and Learning Faculty Deans of Teaching and Learning Regional Campus representative Regional Campus representative Student Services Director Student Services Director International Office representative International Office representative Pro-Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning representative Pro-Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning representative Student Learning Support Centre representative Student Learning Support Centre representative The Student Guild President The Student Guild President Guild Student Assist Department representative Guild Student Assist Department representative

19 The tasks of the Steering Group Task One: Overview Curtin Retention data in context of a wider theoretical understanding of student retention Task One: Overview Curtin Retention data in context of a wider theoretical understanding of student retention What characteristics are shown in the retention data? What characteristics are shown in the retention data? What do these data suggest for key target areas for retention planning? What do these data suggest for key target areas for retention planning? Task Two: Review of the resources and programs that Curtin already has in place to address retention Task Two: Review of the resources and programs that Curtin already has in place to address retention

20 The tasks of the Steering Group Task Three: Identification of critical gaps in retention resources and programs Task Three: Identification of critical gaps in retention resources and programs Task Four: Development of a Draft Retention Plan Task Four: Development of a Draft Retention Plan Task Five: Identification of key goals for implementation Task Five: Identification of key goals for implementation At the time of writing, the Steering Group is at Task Four in this process. At the time of writing, the Steering Group is at Task Four in this process.

21 Assessing existing retention strategies There are already many activities/programs that impact on retention There are already many activities/programs that impact on retention These had never been formally assessed as a cohesive group. Some were not widely known at all within the University These had never been formally assessed as a cohesive group. Some were not widely known at all within the University They were mapped against the variables in Tinto’s (1993) model They were mapped against the variables in Tinto’s (1993) model See examples at See examples at This process suggested the gaps that needed addressing This process suggested the gaps that needed addressing

22 Identifying potential new student retention strategies A large number of potential strategies were listed by the Steering Group A large number of potential strategies were listed by the Steering Group These were ranked on These were ranked on Potential Impact: whether the proposed retention strategy would make a significant difference to retention. Potential Impact: whether the proposed retention strategy would make a significant difference to retention. Difficulty in Implementation: the complexity of the strategy/intervention and the level of resourcing required. Difficulty in Implementation: the complexity of the strategy/intervention and the level of resourcing required. Urgency: how soon the university should make a start on implementing the proposed retention strategy. Urgency: how soon the university should make a start on implementing the proposed retention strategy.

23 The “short listed” strategies A group of highest ranked strategies have been assembled. A group of highest ranked strategies have been assembled. They are publicised to staff at They are publicised to staff at After wider staff and student input, these will be developed into a formal plan After wider staff and student input, these will be developed into a formal plan

24 Meanwhile – we have not been sitting on our hands 2007 gave us an opportunity to try out some retention strategies. Development of a “New-to-Curtin” web site: This site is now functional at It carries information specifically relevant to new students in their transition to university. Development of a “New-to-Curtin” web site: This site is now functional at It carries information specifically relevant to new students in their transition to university. A Timed E-Newsletter to new students: Eight Newsletters (hosted on the New-to-Curtin site) are delivered at various appropriate times during Semester. A Timed E-Newsletter to new students: Eight Newsletters (hosted on the New-to-Curtin site) are delivered at various appropriate times during Semester.

25 Trial retention strategies A Revised Orientation Program: There was significant revision of what is delivered as a central program and what is delivered at enrolling school level. A Revised Orientation Program: There was significant revision of what is delivered as a central program and what is delivered at enrolling school level. An Orientation and Transition Best Practice Checklist has been established for staff at An Orientation and Transition Best Practice Checklist has been established for staff at

26 Trial retention strategies Collaborative programs with specific schools: Occupational Therapy, Multimedia Design, Social Work, Art, Education and Nursing & Midwifery. Collaborative programs with specific schools: Occupational Therapy, Multimedia Design, Social Work, Art, Education and Nursing & Midwifery. The pilot programs include The pilot programs include mentoring, mentoring, regular contact with new students, regular contact with new students, early alert and referral by staff of at-risk students, early alert and referral by staff of at-risk students, drop-ins by retention staff, drop-ins by retention staff, contact with students on Conditional status, contact with students on Conditional status, in-house workshops and forums. in-house workshops and forums.

27 Trial retention strategies An on-line process for staff to refer at risk students to staff of the Retention Project: The on-line referral form allows staff to refer students who appear to be struggling to staff in the Retention Project with the intention of connecting students to the appropriate source of help within the University. An on-line process for staff to refer at risk students to staff of the Retention Project: The on-line referral form allows staff to refer students who appear to be struggling to staff in the Retention Project with the intention of connecting students to the appropriate source of help within the University. Further details are at Further details are at

28 Trial retention strategies The “Don’t Drop Out, Drop In” Campaign: The slogan, web button (leading to a portal of all support services at and poster campaign was launched in week three of Semester One just before the census date. The “Don’t Drop Out, Drop In” Campaign: The slogan, web button (leading to a portal of all support services at and poster campaign was launched in week three of Semester One just before the census date.http://unilife.curtin.edu.au/ Aims to raise awareness of sources of help for students and staff Aims to raise awareness of sources of help for students and staff

29 Trial retention strategies Addressing the needs of students on Conditional status: Students who are placed on Conditional status have already demonstrated a significant level of risk in their studies. Addressing the needs of students on Conditional status: Students who are placed on Conditional status have already demonstrated a significant level of risk in their studies. An information resource for these students has been created at An information resource for these students has been created at This has contributed to University-wide plans to introduce a new process in 2008 which will aim to require these students to submit a “Returning to Good Standing” action plan. This has contributed to University-wide plans to introduce a new process in 2008 which will aim to require these students to submit a “Returning to Good Standing” action plan.

30 Trial retention strategies Making contact with students who left the University in 2006 without completing a qualification: A letter was sent all domestic students who did not re-enrol (other than those who were terminated) by letter in July. The letter offered contact and advice to facilitate re-entry to the University. In addition, this process requested students to complete an on-line survey giving their reasons for not re-enrolling. Making contact with students who left the University in 2006 without completing a qualification: A letter was sent all domestic students who did not re-enrol (other than those who were terminated) by letter in July. The letter offered contact and advice to facilitate re-entry to the University. In addition, this process requested students to complete an on-line survey giving their reasons for not re-enrolling. Unfortunately, this process got almost no response. Unfortunately, this process got almost no response. We will try a different approach in 2008 to contact these former students. We will try a different approach in 2008 to contact these former students.

31 Trial retention strategies Creating a Retention Resource web site for staff: a dedicated website which includes a function as an information portal has been created for staff at Creating a Retention Resource web site for staff: a dedicated website which includes a function as an information portal has been created for staff at

32 Performance Indicators How would we know if we are making any difference? How would we know if we are making any difference? The obvious candidate is to re-examine retention statistics The obvious candidate is to re-examine retention statistics Because the retention rate is a lagging statistic with all the weakness previously mentioned, we also need other measures Because the retention rate is a lagging statistic with all the weakness previously mentioned, we also need other measures

33 Performance Indicators We can use measures from the various retention interventions We can use measures from the various retention interventions Examples include: Examples include: Evaluation data from mentor programs (both from mentors and mentees) Evaluation data from mentor programs (both from mentors and mentees) O Week evaluation data O Week evaluation data Usage rates of retention websites Usage rates of retention websites Data from support service areas contacts with new students and at-risk students. Data from support service areas contacts with new students and at-risk students. Evaluation data and participation rates in specific retention programs Evaluation data and participation rates in specific retention programs

34 It’s all very complicated! Dealing with a multi-variable issue with multiple interventions whilst aiming at a fuzzily-defined target ain’t so easy… Dealing with a multi-variable issue with multiple interventions whilst aiming at a fuzzily-defined target ain’t so easy…

35 2008 Priorities Widen the mentor programs Widen the mentor programs Consolidate the New-to-Curtin E Newsletter and related transition activities Consolidate the New-to-Curtin E Newsletter and related transition activities Focus on early identification and intervention with at-risk students Focus on early identification and intervention with at-risk students


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