Marcia Layton Turner
Odessa College

Many initiatives targeted at reducing student dropout rates look at factors such as ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status to explain academic underperformance—and then the institution develops programs to help boost graduation rates within the at-risk categories.

Odessa College in Texas took a different approach. Donald Wood, vice president for institutional effectiveness, analyzed course dropout data and found that the student’s background was inconsequential when compared to the impact of the course instructor. So why not develop a program to benefit every student—at risk or not?

The Drop Rate Improvement Program was built around four instructor practices that Wood found correlated with low drop rates: learning who students are by name; intervening when a student struggles; spending time getting to know each student; and providing a clear syllabus at the start of the course explaining exactly what students are expected to do and when.

Success Data Points

  • 94% course completion rate for all enrolled students enrolled in 2014 (up from 85% in 2010)
  • 75% of students received a C or better in courses in 2014 (up from 68% in 2010)
  • 78% increase in the number of degrees and certificates awarded between 2010 and 2014

Officials then worked with instructors to help them apply those four practices in their classrooms.

After applying the principles, some instructors saw drop rates for certain courses improve from one in three students to one in 20.

“It was staggering,” says Wood. “It had to do strictly with the connection the instructor made with the student.”

Odessa’s Drop Rate Improvement Program has led to higher grades and has driven big increases in course completion rates and the number of degrees issued.

As Wood puts it, “It’s actually transformed education here at Odessa College.”