Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Jul 10, 2018 – Click here for the Spanish version
Student retention is a challenge for all higher education institutions, but community colleges might have an even harder time getting students to stay in school. As they are mostly open admissions institutions, they tend to have a higher number of at-risk students than institutions with a selective admissions process.
In addition, many community college students are first-generation, meaning they are the first in their families to ever attend college. “This means community colleges must be very proactive in reaching out to their student populations and making sure those students are connected, that they are not left alone, and that they have people outside the classroom who can help them,” says Dr. Dennis Krieb, director of Institutional Research and Library Services at Lewis and Clark Community College, in Illinois.
With a student population of about 12,000, Lewis and Clark Community College (LCCC) is an institution that understands the importance of retention as a continuous process. And in addition to being proactive, they collect and analyze data to know which at-risk students they need to help.
Student Retention Data: The First Steps
It all started with a clipboard. Back before LCCC had even adopted Blackboard Analytics, Krieb began collecting offline data by investigating the retention rates of students who attended tutoring at LCCC’s library, compared to those who did not.
“I began tracking students who used tutoring and then taking those students’ IDs and matching them with enrollments, to see if there was data to support that tutoring was actually helping with retention,” Krieb explains.
These first studies were based on a theoretical framework designed by professor Vincent Tinto, called the student integration theory. Tinto’s assumption was that the more students connect with other people outside the classroom, the more likely they are to continue their studies.
Krieb’s research results confirmed his suspicion: students who were tutored presented higher retention rates than those who weren’t. As the study had not controlled other factors, it wasn’t perfect, but it was the first step.
Predicting Student Success
In 2012, Krieb was asked to take on institutional research at LCCC. That’s when he was introduced to Blackboard Analytics, which allowed him to dig deeper into his studies, making sure that previous results weren’t just about tutored students being more motivated than others.
When Krieb started working on institutional research, one of his first initiatives was having Blackboard develop a method to track students as they reached for different support services around the campus.
“In other words, when students were tutored or visited the diversity office, we got their ID, and then that information was sent to our data warehouse so that I could actually see this quickly in Blackboard,” Krieb explains.
That approach continued to evolve over the years. The tracking expanded to 20 different locations on campus, enabling Krieb to see the impact of the various student support services on student retention rates through correlational data.
“We can get very specific. For example, we can say that African-American males are an at-risk retention group for us, but we can also say that African-American males that used the library or that were tutored have a higher retention rate, so that allows us totargetservices for at-risk groups,” he notes.
LCCC is now sharing the data they have on retention with faculty, as they need instructors on board with the project. “We are trying to educate the faculty on data, on understanding this new data-driven culture. We are making them aware of student retention rates, at-risk groups, and success rates. They obviously have a lot to offer, and they are responding well, but it is something new to them, for sure.”
Library Analytics: A Promising Field
Having been an academic library director for over 15 years, Krieb has found a way to combine both his backgrounds in libraries and in institutional research. “My personal interest now is to get into library analytics, a very fertile field that hasn’t been touched yet. I think this is really important,” he says. But what does library analytics mean?
“Libraries have a lot of data and they serve every student on campus,” Krieb notes. “But nobody can connect library services to student success. So, what library analytics is about is connecting the impact of libraries upon student success using correlational data.” So, if students use the library to check out books or to ask a question to the reference desk, for example, what impact do those variables have on that student’s success?
That is a new field of research which, according to Krieb, is currently being explored by only two institutions: LCCC and the University of Minnesota. “I’m working with a grant at Syracuse University on this very topic, it’s called Library Integration in Institutional Learning Analytics. It’s an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant and it’s about helping librarians understand how to find correlational data in their libraries,” he says. “Everybody is trying to find their correlational data, but libraries have not done this yet. So, I think this is an exciting area to be in.”
Learning from LCCC
Helping students proactively: When students abandon a course at LCCC, they fill out a survey telling the institution why they did it. According to Krieb, there are three major reasons for student drop out: personal, academic, and financial issues. “If it’s personal, whether be issues in their home, life or family, there’s not a lot we can do. But if it’s an academic reason, we can certainly help them with tutoring or academic support services. And if it’s financial, we can help them as well with emergency loan services.”
The “intrusive advising model”: About two years ago, LCCC required all faculty to plan a graded assignment within the first few weeks of the semester. “Our semesters are 16 weeks long, and we ask instructors to have some type of graded assignment by week four. That gives us an indication of whether the student is going to be in trouble in that course or not, because if we wait until the mid-term test as the first graded assignment, it may be too late,” Krieb explains. After that first assignment, faculty members must report through the student information system in case they have a concern for a student based on either attendance or grade. “Our advisers then take the names of those possible at-risk students and reach out to them quickly to figure out what the problem is so that there’s enough time in the semester to get them support so they won’t drop, or possibly fail the course.”
Decentralized Student Success Centers: At LCCC,there are several tutoring centers throughout the campus focused on different student needs, such as writing, math, speech or science. “Each student that goes to a Student Success Center has to check in with their ID and is asked about which course they are being tutored for,” says Krieb. This way, the institution can look up in the system the students that are tutored by location, and then see what happened to those students based on their grades and retention.
Tutored students have 15 to 17% higher retention rates than the general student population at LCCC.
With increased student retention rates, LCCC is saving between $120,000 – 300,000 in tuition revenue per semester.
4 Steps to Improving Student Retention
1. Use data to identify your target group
If you don’t know who to target, you won’t know where to begin.
2. Figure out what works to get them to stay
Is it tutoring? Is it financial help? It depends on the reason why the student is inclined to abandon the course. There are three major reasons: Personal, academic or financial.
3. Predict at-risk students
If students are displaying signs of struggle, be it through poor attendance or low grades, it’s time to reach out to them to figure out what’s happening.
4. Connect at-risk students to support services
Make students aware of the types of help available on campus.
Photos: AFP Michael B. Thomas