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Making retention and student success part of your campus culture

A University Business Web Seminar Digest • Originally Presented on July 31, 2012
University Business, September 2012

At Carroll University, retention is at the top of the priority list—and it’s a full-time job for the Director of Student Success. During this web seminar, top leaders at Carroll University discussed how they made retention a day-to-day priority and created a campus-wide culture of student success. They discussed Jenzabar’s customized retention technology platform and how it helped identify the unique factors that influence retention. Carroll University is located in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and has an undergraduate enrollment of 2,850 and a graduate enrollment of 450. 

 Doug Hastad

President, Carroll University

I came to Carroll in 2006. In my first year, we did a good job of identifying, recruiting and enrolling freshman students. That was Jim Wiseman’s 12th consecutive year of increasing recruitment. 

In fall of 2007, Jim proposed that we take the same approach to retaining students that we do in recruiting them. He said we were goal-driven to enroll a first-rate freshman class, but he thought it was time we approach retention with the same manner and the same zeal as we approach recruitment. 

So we did. And in 2008, we hired Jeff McNamara to be director of our student success program. 

Why was this so important to us?

  • We wanted to move students toward a successful degree at Carroll. 
  • We wanted also to enhance the prestige, image, and reputation of our institution. The retention rate is one of the key numbers that colleges and universities are rated on.
  • It reinforces what our faculty do in the classroom.
  • It makes our campus more student centered. We tell visiting students that you really can’t hide here. Our teachers, coaches and staff will let Jeff know if you are missing classes, falling back on your grades, or not attending practices.
  • We continue to increase or maintain our FTE enrollment. 
  • It makes good business sense. If you could retain 2 percent more students each year, you would see the benefit. Jeff has more than paid for himself.

Jim Wiseman

Vice President of Enrollment, Carroll University

When we first started talking about this program, we realized we could not achieve these goals by doing the same old things. We knew we needed a new approach to retention. We needed to be more purposeful about retaining and graduating our students.

In the spring of 2008, we instituted the STAY Program: We needed to get the Right Students at the Right Time with the Right Attention and they would generate the Right Yield. We focused on first-time freshmen. 

Our challenges included:

  • Identifying the right student at the right time. 
  • Deciding if we wanted a centralized or decentralized approach.
  • Figuring out how to provide attention to students so proactively that the students themselves might not even realize they needed attention.
  • Finding the best way to adjust the campus culture and to get the message across.

Jeff McNamara

Director of Student Success, Carroll University

We learned that historical methods were not working. Faculty and staff are geared to doing what they can for students. But that meant that often, by the time my office became aware of a problem, it was too late. We tried to change that culture, by letting staff know that it was OK to pass along a student right at the beginning of a problem. Just let me know, and you can return to your area of expertise.

We found students falling into three groups.

  1. Those who would stay enrolled if they had some help
  2. Those who would stay enrolled no matter what.
  3. Those who would not stay enrolled, regardless of how much help they received.

We wanted to focus our attention on the students where we could make the most difference.

JW: To bring everything together, we approached Jenzabar with our idea. We have data from all areas of campus life in different silos, and wanted to pull it all together to build a predictive model that scores every student every night, and tells us each morning which students are now at risk of leaving Carroll. 

Jenzabar took student attributes from various systems and silos and created this predictive model of our students. They include dynamic factors which are changeable, like attendance or grades, and static factors, such as socio-economic characteristics. Some of the factors that went into the model are: 

  • Academic Profile.
  • Economic Background.
  • Are they first-generation college students?
  • What is their major?
  • Attendance.
  • Midterm Grades.
  • Are they working? Did they change their major? Did they withdraw from courses?
  • How involved are they on campus?

Every night, the system pulls in all the information from these data sets and produces a list of students who are in a very critical situation, students we need to be cautious about, and those who are fine. 

JM: Jenzabar helped us use data to break down silos between campus departments. Most of our ERP systems organize data in silos, but we needed to combine data from admissions, student life, financial aid, the business office, and the registrar’s office so we could look at it and analyze it on a student-by-student basis. The software has become the key mechanism for us to identify at-risk students. 

The Jenzabar FinishLine system also enabled us to create trigger points, and the software would provide lists of students who missed a deadline to register, fell back on payments or missed appointments with advisors, for example. It’s a really robust system that is very user friendly and supports the total effort.

Our retention efforts are centralized. We worked very hard at letting everyone on campus know that there is a resource to go to. I was able to do my job and focus on the trouble areas, and the other faculty and staff could do their jobs. It worked nicely. 

We identified some policies and procedures where we had no idea that they were hurting our efforts to keep students.

FinishLine helps us focus our attention on the right student at the right time. A lot of times, we are just trying to identify a situation and get the student to the right resource for help. 

Our ultimate goal is to increase graduation rates. Thus far, the STAY program has shown significant results. Our freshman-sophomore retention rate has gone from 74.77 percent to 80.05 percent; and our global retention rate from 78.15 percent to 82 percent.

To view this web seminar in its entirety, go to: