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Retention program succeeds by linking early warning with supportive assistance

EBI's MAP-Works boosts student retention rates for Eastern Kentucky University

College recruitment is getting ever more competitive, so making sure students stay in school once they're enrolled is a smart move for any university.

For years, Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., relied on its residential hall coordinators and student advisors to spot students on the verge of dropping out and help get them back on track. It worked, to an extent, but university housing officials were concerned by a study that showed most colleges in Kentucky were competing for the same students. In that kind of environment, wouldn't it make sense to do an even better job of retaining students who were already on campus?


Kenna Middleton, Eastern Kentucky's director of university housing, had seen demonstrations of an innovative student retention program, EBI's MAP-Works, at several education conferences and was intrigued. So the college decided to try the program last year for members of its freshman class who lived on campus.

"I really felt we'd have to add extra oomph to retention efforts," Middleton said.

She got what she wanted. Eastern Kentucky University as a whole had a decline of a little under one percent in retention last year. But the retention rate for students who lived in university housing?about 75 percent of the freshman class?increased 6.5 percent. Middleton credits much of that success to MAP-Works.

Under the program, freshmen are given the MAP-Works Transition Survey in the first few weeks of school, with questions about academic expectations, classroom attendance, social integration on campus and the like. A similar, second assessment - the MAP-Works Check-Up Survey - is given in the last half of the term. The program also incorporates data about every student's academic behavior and performance from faculty reports. By incorporating information from many aspects of the students' background and experiences, a sophisticated algorithm is use to assign color-coded designations: red for the greatest risk, yellow for moderate risk, and green for low risk.

EBI's research shows that those students who are designated red across the board are at greatest risk of dropping out. The program not only pinpoints at-risk students with an easily identifiable red indicator through detailed, easily grasped reports, but dashboards also give faculty and staff a quick read on what might be causing stress, such as financial constraints, academic problems, homesickness or lack of social connection.

At Eastern Kentucky, students who are flagged by MAPWorks get visits from hall coordinators, who are trained in giving advice and guidance.

"If we have students who go red because of finances, we would end up going to our financial aid office and making sure they have access to all available aid," Middleton said. "Or we could hook them up with student employment or off-campus employment."

MAP-Works provides a wealth of information to schools. Students can get information about any gaps between their academic expectations and behavior. Miss too many classes, for instance, and you should expect to perform poorly. Staffers can gain insight into which students have the kind of homesickness that passes, and which have more incapacitating kinds of social distress.

The MAP-Works program was extended to the sophomore class this year. It wasn't hard to justify the cost, Middleton said.

"Last year, we estimated that if we kept just three students, MAP-Works would pay for itself," she said.

To learn more about MAP-Works, visit