Tom Green, Ph.D.
As the start of another academic year approaches, enrollment managers worldwide are busily soothing campus executives that the fall numbers will be at or above expected levels. They sift through historical data to compare point-in-time enrollments, deposits, orientation attendance, and any number of other data points, hoping that they reveal the fall enrollment. More than a few search for a crystal ball or nearby Ouija board to help them divine the answers. Two of the most important and largest segments of the enrollment are the retention and persistence rates of returning students. This issue features three student success studies that illuminate different facets of this very complex area, offered by one individual author and three institutional research teams.
Vanderbilt’s team of Erb, Sinclair, and Braxton examine the role of residence hall communities in first-year retention. Building upon the work of Tinto and Braxton, they pull back the curtain on a phenomenon commonly observed on many campuses: residential students tend to have higher retention rates than commuters. Their work seeks to understand the constructs that support stronger retention among residential students through the lenses of identity, interaction, and solidarity.
Big data in higher education poses new problems for enrollment managers. With so much information being collected in our systems, it is challenging to know if we are collecting meaningful data and how to use the data to identify students at risk. A team of researchers from Iowa State University tackles the task by attempting to build a predictive model. They seek to know whether student characteristics can reliably predict earned GPA below a 2.0 threshold. This is highly practical research, as that level is commonly used as the qualitative standard for satisfactory academic progress.
Many enrollment managers and student affairs leaders recount tales of hovering “helicopter” parents who seek to intervene in every aspect of a student’s college career. Brandy Cartmell adds thoughtful depth on this topic, examining the ways in which these attachments may benefit or diminish student success. It examines the similarities and differences in levels of parental involvement, providing evidence that no involvement, some involvement, and high levels of involvement may be associated with varying levels of student success.
While strategies and research can be invaluable tools in creating strong student support systems, they are useless without talented professionals to implement them. Cajigas, Kalsbeek, and McGrath of DePaul University offer a competency framework for talent development that can be used to nurture the talents of enrollment staff. By identifying competencies required for success in the field, managers can foster the acquisition of these competencies by their staff members.
Whatever your enrollment situation is this summer, it is almost certain that next year’s retention goals will be even higher. This issue’s articles offer strong research on three areas where institutional practice lacks research and methods to identify the interventions that can impact student success rates. It also offers a pragmatic and process-oriented mechanism to develop staff to implement the student success programs that will inevitably be part of your student success programs this fall.