One transfer institution's test to improve retention of adult undergraduate students

June 14, 2016
  • AACRAO Connect
Female student smiling as she leans against a bookcase in a library.


by Sarah McAbee, Vice President for Enrollment and Student Support Services, Athens State University

As part of the SEM-EP experience, my SEM-EP capstone project was designed to test the theory that stalled adult learners might be influenced to persist to degree completion if they were provided a clear pathway to degree completion, even if unsolicited.

The research project was designed with two test groups of stop out students.  Both groups were emailed an invitation to reenroll in their program and provided upcoming registration information.  No further outreach efforts were directed to the control group, but any inquiries from the control group were answered and encouraged.  

The experimental group was provided personalized information about their degree completion status including number of hours lacking, what specific courses were being offered in the next registration cycle that met their needs for degree completion, next steps to be taken and advisor contact information.  The experimental group was tracked for responses, readmissions, advising and registration activity.


Our results were highly encouraging.  The control group had a 23% response rate and a 4% reenrollment rate. The experimental group produced a 41% response rate, with 7% immediate reenrollment and 4% reenrollment beyond the date of the study.  Overall the mini project produced an 11% return to current enrollment. 

Lessons Learned from the project:

1. Circling back to stop out students on a regular basis can produce returns to enrollment.

       a. Students respond to an interest in their life circumstances and successes

       b. Adult students respond more quickly to home ISP addresses rather than school email addresses

2. Current contact information on stop out students may be a project in itself.

3. A well-developed tool box is important for any major outreach project.  Out tool box includes

      a. Constant Contact email management tool provided us with open rate, click through and response rate reporting.

      b. Degree Works degree audit tool provided us with easy access to plans of study and currently available course offerings.  Further development in reporting from our audit tool can now provide and advisor with individualized information in batch mode, freeing up more time for student relationship building.

One student’s response to our efforts summarizes the best result:

“Oh my goodness!!!  If you guys could only see my smile right now !!!”

AACRAO’s Strategic Enrollment Management Endorsement Program is a great way to recognize talent and ability in Enrollment Service Areas.  The Capstone Experience can be customized to meet any participant’s needs for professional growth.Learn more about SEM-EP.

Get more strategic insights into transfer at the 2016 AACRAO Technology and Transfer Conference, July 10-12 in Anaheim, CA. Visit the conference webpage to learn more.

Can't make the conference? Join the Transfer listserv to ask questions and engage in transfer discussion.


AACRAO's bi-weekly professional development e-newsletter is open to members and non-members alike.