Retention is a crucial metric for any higher education institution. We all know it, we all study it, and we’re all trying to increase our retention rates.
So what do you do when, through some deep data analysis, you discover some surprising and unusual trends around first-year retention rates, particularly around those who live close to your institution?
On this episode of Enrollment Growth University, Joseph Provenza, Vice President for Technology Services and Chief Information Officer at Flagler College, discusses some incredibly interesting and even counter-intuitive findings from digging into their first-year retention data.
Recently, Flagler’s freshman retention model uncovered a great deal of correlative factors for predicting student persistence, and many of those were intuitive. Just what you’d expect.
But there were a few that weren’t.
Retention Rates vs. Distance from Home
They undertook modeling their first-year class with some historical data from their system to see what correlations they could draw.
As you’d expect, most of the data was right in line with what they were expecting. But there were some surprise, too.
One of the biggest surprises were those students who were 50-100 miles from home, as they were the poorest retainers geographically.
Why, though? Maybe they were far enough way, but not too far, so they never got a chance to get over the homesickness. Maybe every weekend was a trip home to see friends, and not stay on campus?
Whatever the reason, the staff at Flagler decided to put more focus and energy into theri student life programs, asking what programs or events or activities they could put in place to get students to want to stay on campus, and make Flagler their home away from home.
Work Study Programs are a Critical Correlator
The other surprising result from their in-depth data analysis was the 26% lift that campus employment played in retention.
You would expect that campus employment might help with retention a little, but according to the data findings, retention was through the roof.
Again the question must be asked, why?
Provenza thinks that it could be that students are making money, and have to be at work, so naturally they’re going to stay on campus.
Or, he says, it could be that the students are enjoying being a part of the success of the school, and they’re more closely woven into the fabric and DNA of the school.
They’re meeting people, working with their colleagues, and just like a full time employee, they’re getting to be a part of something.
Maybe your institution is looking to dig into your data, and see what you can learn. Where do you start? What’s important to know?
First and foremost, get the best quality data you possibly can. Pay attention to what data you’re collecting from your students, and how you’re using it, and how you’re categorizing it.
Second, unless you’re a school that has a lot of data geeks on staff, get yourself a good partner. Someone who knows how to interpret and analyze data, and then present it in a way that tells a compelling story.
Once you have all that, then you are one step ahead when you do get data that surprises you. You’ve got people on your team to help make sense of that data and help you figure out how to change course if need be.
Again, retention is vital. The more time your students spend on campus, the more likely they are to be involved in the life of the school, and the more likely they are to come back next year.
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