Data may be used to shape retention efforts

June 7, 2017

Can data collection aid in student retention? Three Clarion University employees think so and have the numbers to support it.

After attending last year's Planning, Assessment and Improvement Day, three co-workers and friends felt inspired to make a difference in students' lives in the areas of success, career and wellness – which also happens to be their areas of employment at the university.

"We walked away inspired knowing we could make a difference," Coordinator for Career Mentoring and Internships Josh Domitrovich said of last year's Planning, Assessment and Improvement Day.

For Student Success Coach Matt Mullen, Domitrovich and Student Support Assistant Tom Crissman, the goal was to determine if they could identify at-risk students early in the semester and intervene. The idea was that early intervention would help students obtain the available services they need to succeed, thereby aiding in retention in the process.

"Students don't know what they don't know, and it's our job to educate and expose them to resources at the institution that can aid in their growth," Domitrovich said.

Mullen, Domitrovich and Crissman knew that students leave college for a number of reasons and decided to focus on the personal, professional and academic areas where students can be vulnerable.

The three gave a formal presentation in Chad Smith's Management 120 class discussing their jobs on campus and an 18-question survey. The survey was administered during week five and each question was scored and reviewed to identify students who may be facing transitional stressors. Mullen, Domitrovich, and/or Crissman reached out to those students to provide assistance.

The same survey was then distributed during week 12 to determine if any progress was made organically or through intervention. They found that situations often grew worse for the students because students were past the honeymoon stage of college life when the initial inventory was taken.

Crissman's six wellness-based questions dealt with transitions, isolation, mental and physical health, cognitive fitness, wellness and stress management.

Mullen's six success-based questions focused on technology, time management, study skills/learning styles, goal setting/academic planning, connectedness, and involvement.

Domitrovich's questions were career-based and asked about research, experience, preparation, professionalism/branding, resume and skills development.

Of the 89 respondents, 16 percent or 14 students met with at least one coach throughout the fall 2016 semester, Domitrovich said.

Other discoveries in the inventory included:

  • Students didn't experience academic difficulty until after weeks six or seven.
  • It identified transitional stressors which can be studied to create needed programming.
  • Passive programming, like the survey, allows for awareness and peer-to-peer intervention.
  • Staff and faculty collaborations allowed for intersection and intervention with at-risk students.

The last discovery is something the three alluded to when they presented this research at this year's Planning, Assessment and Improvement Day.

Students view staff and faculty similarly, so it helps if every employee is engaged in the welfare of students.

"We can all make a difference," Mullen said.

There are some questions as to how this type of survey can be implemented so more students participate and are flagged for any concerns.

Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Pam Gent asked if feedback on the students could be gathered before the drop/add date.

Domitrovich said there is even a possibility to share these results with high school counselors to better prepare students for college in a way to "stop the bleeding before it starts."

Astronomy professor Sharon Montgomery questioned whether this survey is portable to other classes.

Crissman said he believes it's "doable anywhere."

Domitrovich suggested implementing the survey within the curriculum.

"We know if it's connected to a class the chances of completion increase exponentially," said Domitrovich.


Last Updated 4/9/18