A Collaborative, Data-Based Approach to Student Retention and Success
Since 2018, The University of Tampa (UT) has aimed a laser-like focus on raising the first-year student retention rate. This campaign inspires all campus units to identify how they influence retention and where opportunities for improvement exist, and then to work collaboratively to plan, implement, and assess retention efforts. A key aspect of UT’s approach was a deeper dive into data from the perspectives of academic and student affairs and multiple years of NSSE data. Motivation for improvement came from a first-year retention rate 3 to 4 points lower than that of peer institutions. NSSE results provided nuance, for example, demonstrating UT’s strengths in student-faculty interaction and students’ dedication of time to co-curricular activities and community service. NSSE also pointed to areas for improvement such as support for learning and interactions among students, faculty, and administrators.
UT designed a series of professional development activities, including a day of division-wide focus on retention and student engagement, student affairs exchanges, monthly forums for collaboration across all functional areas, follow-up sessions reinforcing interest in fostering a growth mindset and supporting marginalized populations, and a facilitated dialogue on qualities of High-Impact Practices.
UT’s registration task force, a cross-functional group of 22 departments, has focused on what it means to belong. The provost, vice president for student affairs, and vice president for operations and planning have also formalized how they can better coordinate student success efforts, capitalizing on well-established planning and budgeting processes. Although these administrators have long collaborated, the data and professional development suggested they should straighten the paths toward attainment of retention goals.
UT’s model inspires student affairs professionals and demonstrates effective stewardship of institutional resources. It also illustrates the importance of hardwiring collaboration into the institutional culture and structure.