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A Workshop to Improve Retention and Graduation Larry Abele Provost Emeritus Director, Institute for Academic Leadership Florida State University. In the midst of a recession education remains a huge advantage. The advantages of parents ’ education are transferred to their children.

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A Workshop to Improve Retention and Graduation Larry Abele Provost Emeritus

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A Workshop to Improve

Retention and Graduation

Larry Abele

Provost Emeritus

Director, Institute for Academic Leadership

Florida State University

In the midst of a recession education remains a huge advantage

The advantages of parents’ education are transferred to their children

% Children Attaining Bachelor’s Degree or Better

Source: Chronicle of Higher Education, August 27, 1999

Educational Level of Parents

Institutions Have a Large Effect on Retention and Graduation

Why are Attrition Rates High and Graduation Rates Low?

Lack of Policy Focus or Attention:

  • Almost all states fund enrollment or student credit hours.

  • Rankings either do not include graduation rates or give them little weight.

  • Focusing on Retention/Graduation has not been part of our culture.

Why Students SAY They’re Withdrawing

“I’m going surfing

in California.”

“My sister is going to have a baby and I want to get to know my nephew.”

“I should have waited to come to FSU for my Master’s, the Bachelors was just too much.”

“I want to follow my boyfriend; he is going to a Christian college in Texas and we want to live together.”

“I need to go back to my high school; I had a lot more friends there.”

“I am in debt and am going to Alaska to prospect for gold.”

“You aren’t Green enough.”

Three Critical Elements of a Retention/Graduation Program(Creating a Culture of Success)

  • An individual, by status or personality, must drive the process and have access to human and financial resources.

  • A process based on detailed data must be established and maintained for at least five years.

  • There must be a team of individuals from across campus committed to student success who meet weekly to assess progress.

Do we have the right people involved?



Are we using data?


Are we doing the right things?

Effective student success efforts are dependent on having the right people

Elements to Increase Student Success

Do we have the right people in place?

The team operate differently from typical committees by focusing on analysis, action, and accountability

Typical Committee

Cross-Campus Team

Formal Charge

  • Provide analysis and/or identify recommendations for an institutional priority or issue

  • Remove institutional barriers hindering student success


  • Senior-level administrators, usually several levels removed from students

  • Rich mix of people who work day-to-day serving students, includes front-line practitioners


  • Advisory in nature; outlines the work others on campus are to undertake

  • Operates as a true workgroup, defining tasks to be done and completing them


  • Vaguely defined, if at all

  • Defined by measurable and specific changes in student outcomes and performance


  • Convene on an intermittent basis, usually for a finite period of time

  • Weekly, on-going meetings where progress is assessed continuously

  • Data-driven


  • Not well-defined

  • Driven by the mindset that all students can succeed; student-centered in their thinking

Every member of the team has specific responsibilities to move the student success work forward

  • Convene the team on a regular and frequent basis

  • Ensure institutional research capacity and facilitate access to data

  • Provide continuous push for improvement in practices, policies, and programs

  • Model the mindset that every student is worth saving


  • Ensure that the cross-campus team has the data it needs in the appropriate formats

  • Provide guidance on how to interpret data when needed

  • Help team members assess the efficacy of their interventions and strategies

Institutional Research

  • Work continuously to identify institutional barriers that impede student success

  • Devise and implement specific strategies and interventions to remove barriers

  • Provide regular updates on progress of their efforts and tasks completed

Team Member

The team met weekly to address key questions, make decisions, and sustain momentum

Diagnose Problems

  • Which students are progressing as planned? Which students are not? Why?

  • What seems to be impeding student progress or performance?

Followed by an ACTION-oriented line of questioning

WHOwill take responsibility for intervening?

WHENwill that happen?

HOW will our

progress be assessed?

WHERE we will see results?



  • Where should we intervene?

  • What can we do that might make a difference?

  • What additional supports can we put in place?

  • What changes to our policies, programs or practices might we make that would be helpful?


  • Are our efforts having the impact we intended?

  • Do we have the right strategies and supports in place?


  • What have we accomplished since our last meeting?

  • What achievements or accomplishments can we celebrate?


Data analyses to understand progress and underscore decision-making were integral to the team’s work

Moving Florida State Students with 110+ credits to Graduation

Institutional researcher conducts analyses and discovers that in year 2000 the campus had 7,000 students with more than 110 credit hours who have not filed their intent to graduate.



Team discusses how to move these students to graduate. What can we do to change this situation?


Team develops policy that: (1) Places a hold on students’ registration; (2) Mandates students meet with an advisor to have hold removed; and (3) Has students attend workshop on choosing a major.


Regular progress check shows the policy change to be effective. By 2006, the number of students with more than 110 credit hours is reduced to 3,011. By 2009, the number of students drops to 1,540.


Weekly meetings are a powerful routine that can drive progress on student success goals forward

Benefits of Florida State’s Weekly

Team Meeting

Intensive Focus: Everyone comes together to focus on student outcomes and the larger goal of student success

Drives Performance: Work is clearly defined so team members know what they have to do on a day-to-day basis

Provides Discipline: Weekly updates on progress made or tasks completed helps to hold the team accountable for their efforts

Ensures Consistent Engagement: Team does not go for long periods of time without checking in on progress

Builds Momentum: Achievements or gains reported in the meeting help the team stay committed

Excerpts from Weekly Agenda

Advising First: Jane reported that advisors are busy finishing registration. Exploratory students have a mandatory advising hold. The Coaching Center is occupied with last meetings. Meeting rates are high.

Office of National Fellowships: Bill reported that 2 more sophomore Hollings Scholars have been chosen in addition to 3 juniors already receiving the scholarship. Bill also noted that 3 graduating students have been awarded $100,000 from the National Science Foundation for graduate study. All of these students were URCAA winners.

Our team developed a series of 93+ action steps aligned with every month of the academic calendar

It is important to know when, where and how much contact advisors had with students

Extent of advising outreach activity

per month

Advising activity and where it took place on campus

Number of student contacts made by advisors

Effective student success efforts are also dependent on having the right information

Elements to Increase Student Success

Are we collecting the right information?

It is helpful to identify the drivers of performance to better understand the root causes of attrition

“What do I think the root cause of the problem is?”


“What information do I need?”

“What do I think the solution is?”

“Where can I get it?”

“Based on what I learned, can I confirm or reject the hypothesis?”

“What would I have to believe in order to take action?”




In looking at attrition rates, there is a range of rates at different points in time related to student background characteristics.

Yearly Attrition Rates by Cohort: White, Female, First-Time In-State Students


Traditional students experience the largest attrition rates in the first year.













Hispanic female Pell recipients exhibited very different attrition rate patterns, suggesting the need for close interaction with the students and their families.

Yearly Attrition Rates by Cohort: Hispanic, Female, Pell Recipient, First-Time In-State Students













Black male Pell recipients also exhibited very different attrition rate patterns, suggesting the need for continued support over time to avoid dropouts.

Yearly Attrition Rates by Cohort: Black, Male, Pell Recipient, First-Time In-State Students














Status of students six years after withdrawing*

*2004, 2005 Entering Cohorts, Student Data Clearinghouse, n=3115

Benefits of first year residence on campus

persist to graduation

Avg of 2004,05,06,07 cohorts; Housing Study

The data identified chokepoints and bottlenecks on student progress and illuminated steps for active intervention

Student Patterns

Change Implemented

110+ credits



Hold Registration

Students amassing more credits than needed; not declaring their intent to graduate in a timely manner

High Enrollment courses/Low Pass Rates


Add more help sessions

Low pass rates prevented students from being able to move into a major or take on higher level coursework

Undeclared Majors


Academic Mapping

Students not declaring a major in a timely matter; losing out on the benefits of having an academic home and connections to faculty

Top Ten Enrolled Courses

Courses with High D/F Grades

Focus on high enrollment low success courses

Effective student success efforts are also dependent on the right institutional strategies

Elements to Increase Student Success

Are we doing the right things?

There is no silver bullet.You increase retention literally one student at a time.

The team used data to identify strategies ensuring they covered students from the time they entered until they graduated

Overview of Student Success Strategies

Every strategy was regularly monitored and evaluated for its overall impact on student success.

Living Learning Communities & Freshman Interest Groups

Improve Student Retention & Graduation

Every strategy was measured against important progress metrics such as term-to-term attrition, grade point average, and major selection rate

Impact of a Success Coaching Program

Program Description

Overall Impact

  • Program that provides support for students around these 7 “soft” factors that influence retention and graduation:

  • Commitment to graduation

  • Managing commitments

  • Finances

  • School community

  • Academics

  • Effectiveness

  • Health & Support

Source: Florida State University

Distribution of Excess Hours by Student Type*

*None of these students have applied for graduation.

** Transferred from another university without a degree.

Every Major is Given a Term by Term Course Schedule

Source: http://www.academic-guide.fsu.edu/

Academic Maps consist of three essential components – the narrative, sample schedule, and milestones

The narrative explains the use of academic maps and any specific information about degree requirements, including admissions requirements

The sample schedule outlines which courses should be taken in which specific term in order to satisfy all requirements

The Milestones identify critical courses for timely progress and the last semester in which they can be completed for on-time graduation

Source: http://www.academic-guide.fsu.edu/Maps/Mapaccounting.html

Students Must Complete Milestone Courses

or a Hold is Place on their Registration

Source: http://www.academic-guide.fsu.edu/Maps/Mapaccounting.html

The Academic Map template included in your binder can be used as a guide for further developing Maps for your institution

Academic Maps are more than academic schedules; they must be accompanied by key policy changes

  • Require early declaration of interest area or major

  • Take account of general education requirements

  • Establish Milestones (key courses, factors, or events that must be completed by a specific time in order to stay on track)

    • Have Milestones for each semester

    • Hold registration and require advising if students miss Milestone

    • Require change of major if students miss Milestones for two semesters

Academic Maps provide significant benefits for students as well as institutions

  • Students save time and money by avoiding unnecessary courses and reducing time to degree

  • Departments know the number of majors and progress toward degree

  • Institutions can predict student demand for major level and prerequisite courses

  • Institutions can effectively allocate advisors

  • Classrooms can be scheduled optimally

  • Faculty can plan two-year teaching schedules

Academic Maps and associated policies effectively reduced the number of students with excess hours

The team did retrospective analysis to better understand how different groups of students progressed to graduation

Example of Retrospective Analyses

Matched the two analyses and designed interventions to address the observed patterns

Discovered summer students who have a GPA of 2.0 or below have an attrition rate greater than 50% during the next two terms

Randomly assigning half of the students to a mandatory “success” course improved term to term retention by 12.3% and year to year by 9.1%

Retrospective analysis of all non-retained students, term by term

Retrospective analysis of all possible subgroups of students

What happens to students who perform poorlytheir first term?


Overview of the Course

  • Course Topics:

    • Choosing Success (HS vs. college & resources)

    • Memory & Learning

    • Time Management & Procrastination

    • Note Making

    • Learning Styles & Test Prep

    • Grades & Other Feedback

    • Active Reading

    • Critical Thinking

Impact of A Student Success Course

  • Among course completers, the first-year retention rate is increasing over time.

The Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement Program

  • Recruits First Generation students primarily of low socioeconomic status

  • Operates Summer Bridge Program

  • Early arrival a week before classes

  • Mandatory activities

  • On-campus housing with CARE counselors as well as traditional RAs

  • Tracks, assists and mentors students

Key Strategies for CARE

  • Early and continuous contact with students during Middle School

  • Large (>200) and diverse cohorts, including academic diversity

  • Financial aid to cover 100% of costs at least initially

  • Start College during Summer with

    • A pre-classes week of introductory programs

    • Mandatory participation in

      • Academic advising

      • Study Hall

      • Tutoring

      • Social Activities

Key Strategies for CARE(continued)

  • Campus-wide Knowledge and Support

  • Constant contact throughout college using paid mentors and tutors

  • Immediate and Aggressive Follow-up for any Student having difficulties

  • Honor societies focused on underrepresented students, e.g., W.E.B. DuBois Honor Society and Oscar Arias Sanchez Honor Society

Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE)

  • CARE Retention Rate94.2%

  • All FTIC Retention Rate90.7%

  • CARE Graduation Rate74.0%

  • All FTIC Graduation Rate69.7%

Low Cost Effective Strategies - I

  • Academic Mapping for each Degree: term by term course schedule with must take courses required: +3.1%

  • Action steps with student contact aligned with the academic calendar

  • Moving Advisors to where the students are at the time when they are there; recording all interactions/questions by time-of-day by day-of-week.

Low Cost Effective Strategies - II

  • Place High Risk Students in Residence Halls

  • W.E.B. Du Bois Honor Society

  • Oscar Arias Honor Society

  • Freshmen Interest Groups (FIGS): + 3.9%

  • Learning Communities in Residence Halls: +3.8%

  • Encourage strong attendance policies in courses with high percentages of D and F grades; quarter term and mid-term reports to advisors

Higher Cost Effective Strategies

  • Re-engineer Low Success Courses

  • Add programs for High Risk students: +3.5%

  • Add Advisors

  • Add Tutors in selected courses

    • Drop in tutoring

    • Tutoring by appointment

  • Add “Successful Learning Strategy” course: +

  • Add Success Coaches: +2.3%

Strategies for high end students

  • Expanded Honors Program

  • Expansion of Undergraduate Research

  • Undergraduate Research Symposia

  • Competitive Grants Program

  • Office of National Fellowships

  • Campus Lecture Series Run by Students

Significant gains in student success are possible but require sustained commitment over time.

Implementation Timeline of Strategies

FSU's Ten-Year Graduation Trend



ALL 74%



Improving Retention Will Yield a Significant Increase in Degrees

Source: Florida State University.


Additional degrees =


Additional minority degrees =





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