Carteret Community College Title III Grant

July 27, 2009

Notes from the Noel-Levitz Retention Conference

Filed under: Conferences — Donald Staub @ 12:25 pm


Here’s a brief report/commentary on the 2009 annual Noel-Levitz annual conference on Student Recruitment, Marketing, and Retention in San Antonio, Texas.   Naturally, this is from my perspective…what I was hearing overall, and what I was hearing in specific sessions. Once again, N-L has put on a great conference – lots of very good sessions, a well-organized event, and in a city where it was fun to hang out (San Antonio).

Patrick and I lucked out with the scheduling, as our session one was in the first breakout session. This allowed us to turn our attention to the rest of the conference early on.  Our presentation can be found here.   Afterward, our session moderator gave us a peek at our session evaluations, and, almost to a person, they really liked the blog, and all the materials we are willing to share through it.

Looking back, what I heard as the primary topics of conversation were (beyond the obvious discussions of resources) – Orientation, the First Year Experience course, Early Alert, Web 2.0, Communicating with Today’s Students, and Developmental Education.

Orientation is a must…everyone who is working on retention has an orientation in place. [so why don’t we??] . And, hand in hand with orientation, there was much mentioned about the First Year Experience course, or what we call ACA.  Almost any time a school mentioned success in retention efforts, one of their strategies was to have a well-designed first year experience course. There was also broad discussion about early alertsNoel-Levitz has a product that was discussed in a number of sessions (e.g. see “Enhancing Student Success in Developmental Mathematics” below), but most of the talk that I heard was about the importance of an EA system, and how it played into the larger realm of retention activities; there was little focus on the details of a system.  Web 2.0 and Communicating with Today’s Students were not mutually exclusive.  There was a good deal of discussion about harnessing today’s technologies to attract and retain today’s tech-savvy students.  I’ll let Patrick discuss this in greater detail over on the DL Blog in his conference debrief.   Finally, I also heard a lot about Developmental Education (particularly math) and its role in student attrition. One keynoter pointed out: “#1 predictor of attrition is performance in math.” DE, while it certainly has its value in higher education, is often looked to as a major issue when it comes to student attrition.  This is particularly so with Math.  So, the question becomes, how do we provide students with the skills that they need in college without chasing them away from the college (because of too many developmental courses).  One proprietary suggestion is discussed in the final session I attended…see below.

Here’s a quick list of the sessions I’m going to comment on.

Student Retention Strategies at Technical Colleges
Debra Gordon

The Most Effective Retention-Related Strategies for Community/Technical Colleges
Dave Trites

What Works in Student Retention?
Wes Habley

Moving Beyond the Retention Committee to Jump the Plateau
Alderman & Petrusch

Survey of entering Student Engagement (SENSE)
Karla Fisher

Enhancing Student Success in Developmental Mathematics
Corder & Panfil

Student Retention Strategies at Technical Colleges
Debra Gordon
DeKalb Technical College

This session discussed the variety of strategies the college has in place to support retention. The presenter noted that their president is graded (by the board) on graduation, placement, and retention.  She stressed, therefore, that, “Our expectation is that within the class, there is quality.  So, we focus on strategies outside the classroom…If we have a quality curriculum, we need quality support.”

In addition to an early alert system, advising center, academic support center, and so on, one intriguing service they provide is refresher courses for the Compass.  The presenter emphasized that this was not “teaching to the test.”  Rather, these courses provide a refresher in the skills that may be needed earn students a few extra points so they may not end up in developmental.  The sessions are taught by adjunct instructors and FT faculty.

My concern with this session was with the data presented.  Some retention data was provided for the last three years.  And while the school seems to be doing well on average (~65%), there was no significant upward movement in this indicator.  Which is OK, except for the fact that the presenter mentioned on numerous occasions that retention was increasing.  In addition, there was no disaggregated data to show which, if any cohorts, had been affected by the strategies, or which strategies were having the greatest impact.

The Most Effective Retention-Related Strategies for Community/Technical Colleges
Dave Trites

Dave started off his session with some profound points…
• Requiring is a requirement.  Indeed, students want this.
• Expecting students to do the things that we know are important for success
• We need to be intrusive and intentional.

Dave turned the participants loose to discuss with someone nearby, their own stories about what kept them in school.  From there, we discussed the rating sheet handout, focusing on what we thought were important among the list.  Here are some of the best practices identified by the participants:
#29 – front load best instructors & advisors
#8 – first-year experience course

[Someone in the crowd from Davidson CC asked if we at CCC were teaching ACA 120 – Transfer Readiness]

Dave steered the conversation toward the results of the  N-L best practices in retention survey. Two key strategies that came to the top of the list were:
• Academic Support Programs
• ACA-type courses…one suggestion was for an ACA course designed specifically for particular majors.
One school mentioned that they had developed a website for students that listed a lot of the resources that students may access to help them with challenges they are facing.  They then promoted it all over campus. They call it:
(students are encouraged to check out this site before they bail) [I could not find the site, however…but the idea is a good one]

Finally, Dave discussed his own list (based on 20+ years of experience) of what works in retention.  Here is what he presented:
Dave’s top 10
1. Improve teaching
Supplemental instruction
Learning communities (cohort)
Faculty/staff development

2. Academic Support

3. Ensure effective and efficient course management
Online & hybrid instruction

4. Require intrusive developmental advising (appreciative advising)
Use technology (for record keeping)
First year experience course (including financial literacy)

5. Campus employment as a retention strategy (work study)

6.  Retention must be someone’s responsibility
Internal marketing and communication
Campus culture (caring for students)

7. Financial aid as retention tool
8. Recruit and admit students who can be successful
Accuracy and integrity: communications and measurement

9. Provide pre- and post-enrollment early alert systems
Pre-enrollment attributes
Attrition predictors (build your own database)

10. Analyzing data to target interventions
e.g. What’s the retention rate of those who register in the last month before classes?

What Works in Student Retention?
Wes Habley

“The key is to torture the data long enough until it confesses.”

“Retention should not be an institutional goal but rather the by-product of improved educational programs and services for students.”

In 2004, ACT published “What works in Student Retention?” (you can download reports by institution type).  They are publishing a follow-up survey this year – probably be out in September. This presentation was intended to provide the results of the study, but unfortunately, only about 60% of their sample had responded to the survey, so this was couched as “preliminary results” and therefore not representative.

You can download a copy of the presentation (with all of the relevant data) by CLICKING HERE.

You can also view the latest data on retention HERE:

From the survey (again, preliminary results) here is what they gleaned about retention in Community Colleges…

Student Characteristics
Of 18 student characteristics…
15 are cited as making a moderate contribution or higher to student attrition
Student characteristics cited as making the greatest contribution to attrition are:
• Level of student preparation for college-level work
• Level of commitment to earning a degree
• Student study skills
• Level of student motivation to succeed
• Adequacy of personal financial resources

Institutional Characteristics
Of 24 institutional characteristics…
Only 6 are cited as making a moderate contribution or higher to student attrition
• Amount of financial aid available to students
• Student engagement opportunities in the classroom
• Quality of interaction between faculty and students
• Student employment opportunities
• Student access to financial aid advising and information
• Adequate academic/learning support services

Greatest Contributors to Retention
• Learning Assistance/Academic Support
• Academic Advising
• Assessment and Course Placement

Highest Rated Interventions
Nine interventions with a mean rating of 4.0
• Increased number of academic advisors
• Mandated placement in courses based on test scores
• Remedial/developmental coursework required
• Comprehensive learning assistance center
• Math center/lab
• Writing center/lab
• Reading center/lab
• Tutoring
• Programs for first generation students
[presenter stressed that the key is assessment at point of entry and making sure they’re ready to study]

Greatest Impact
Identify the three programs on your campus that you believe have the highest impact on student retention
• Mandated course placement testing (28%)
• Tutoring program (19%)
• Required remedial/developmental courses (12%)
• Academic advising center (12%)
• Summer orientation (12%)
• All remaining practices cited at fewer than 10% of the colleges

If you want to see the data on Voc/Tech Schools, you should check out the PPT (which you can download here)

Moving Beyond the Retention Committee to Jump the Plateau
Alderman & Petrusch

This session was presented by the Retention director and the VP of enrollment at a 4-yr private university…so it didn’t directly apply to us here at a community college.  But, as always, there are some take-aways:

• They highly recommended the IHEP summer academy for strengthening their retention team

They discussed how they reviewed communications with current students – the language (tone) and the means for transmitting communication.  They stressed that they wanted to make sure tha they were showing support and giving students personal attention (e.g. what they found was that previously, they were communicating in such a way that they were setting students up for making late payments).

Their philosophy: We are recruiting not just students, but the whole family

Action: Develop plan for how you will respond to particular groups (cohorts)
• identify those groups now and create a timeline for when we will focus on each group(?)

Karla Fisher—College Relations Coordinator, The Center for Community College
Student Engagement

From the abstract:
“Based on preliminary data from the Survey of entering Student Engagement (SENSE), this presentation will offer insight into students’ earliest college experiences and provide examples from colleges committed to turning the tide of entering student attrition.”

The discussion was not so much about examples, but primarily about the instrument itself…which is OK because it seems like it can provide some interesting information about incoming students.  I struggled with some of the items discussed and in trying to figure out how they were actually telling us more about entering student engagement (e.g. I have learned better test taking skills here).

It’s something we may consider exploring.  It’s administered in the 1st-3rd weeks of fall semester, and done so primarily in developmental courses.
The cost is the same as the CCSSE (currently, for us, $6,000 per administration)

Also to consider is the Entering Students Success Institute
Send a team 3-5 members for 2.5 days.  You need to administer the SENSE first, and the data guides your work at the institute. (therefore, we would need to administer in FA’10 and attend in Spring ’11)

Enhancing Student Success in Developmental Mathematics
Corder & Panfil

I was attracted to this session because they were going to discuss the Noel-Levitz early alert system, coupled with a proprietary product for developmental math – two topics that had been discussed a lot across the campus.  I wanted to see how they were brought together.   So, it was a bit of a sales pitch, but it made me think about how we are supporting our developmental math students.  The proprietary product is software designed by Carnegie Learning and it works to the level of the student – adjusting as the student demonstrates greater or lesser mastery of the content.

The way that the whole concept was packaged was that the student takes the personalized Noel-Levitz survey that reveals a students needs and goals.  Together with placement scores, the counselor, the advisor, and the math instructor may look at a student’s current level in math, and determine where s/he needs to be in order to achieve educational goals.

In the end, the Noel-Levitz product seemed intriguing, and worth having a discussion about piloting.

I could say the same about the Carnegie Learning product…but cost and sustainability would be the thing to keep in mind.

Overall, another great Noel-Levitz conference.



  1. Excellent overview of the Noel-Levitz conference Don. As I review my notes and your detailed post its evident to me that effective and fluid COMMUNICATION with our students is key to retention. We as educators must learn to proactively “reach out” to our students in their social networks rather than always expecting them to sift through and read the information we send out to them via direct mail, e-mail and our web sites. We can’t be complacent anymore. Students have many more educational options and no longer have to attend colleges in their geographical regions. One thing is for certain…the nature of education is changing and we must keep ourselves abreast of these changes especially when it comes to technology.

    Comment by Patrick Keough — July 28, 2009 @ 6:19 am | Reply

  2. Hi my loved one! I want to say that this post is awesome, nice written and come with approximately all significant infos. I’d like to look more posts like this .

    Comment by homework help — November 5, 2011 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at