Douglas Vardeman, The University of Texas at Tyler
With the student at the center of The University of Texas at Tyler’s efforts, Persistence and Retention Teams have been implemented to streamline employee communication to diminish the silo effect and find resolutions to student issues as efficiently as possible (Tett, 2016). Furthermore, this approach was established to decrease ping-ponging students between departments and promote finding solutions to students’ issues, with the belief that open communication and a team-driven approach among staff members are key to removing barriers to student success (Hope, 2016). The University of Texas at Tyler is working to improve retention and graduation rates of first-time, full-time first-year students, and the Persistence and Retention Teams have been an element of that initiative.
Persistence and Retention Team members (see Figure 1) include a representative from the following areas:
- Academic Advising
- Career Success
- Student Success Liaison
- Enrollment Services
- Financial Aid
- Residence Life
Figure 1. The Persistence and Retention Team Model
Persistence and Retention Team Function
A case is an electronic notification produced in the Navigate (EAB) student information management system. Case notifications included basic student information, the reason for a case notification, if the alert was associated with a specific class, and any additional comments. All Persistence and Retention Team members, along with all faculty members, can open a case on a student. Also, a few additional administrative staff members assist in triage.
Reasons for case notifications include the following:
- academic notifications,
- advising notifications,
- career development notifications,
- financial notifications,
- housing notifications, and
- student engagement notifications.
After a case is issued, it alerts the appropriate corresponding team member to the issue so they can contact the student and work toward a solution as soon as possible.
First semester approach. During the fall of 2018, cases were issued for any of the six reasons previously covered. The bulk of the cases were academic/advising notifications because of the mid-term grade report. Mid-term grade report cases were issued based on each individual grade of a C, D, or F, irrespective of the specific student. Therefore, instead of one case per student with multiple alerts for each class in which they were doing poorly, cases were issued for each individual grade. This created a remarkable case load, so a few adjustments were made after the fall 2018 semester for the spring 2019 semester.
Changes for the spring 2019 semester. For the spring 2019 semester, one case was created per student, and if a student was doing poorly in multiple classes, all grades were included in a single case. Also, only grades of a D or an F warranted a case. Furthermore, cases were assigned to the student’s respective advisor instead of all students being assigned to the Persistence and Retention Advisor, which was the case for the fall 2018 semester. Finally, if a student has three or more classes in which they were earning a D or an F, the student was assigned to the Student Success Liaison instead of an advisor.
Retention evidence. There was a total of 799 first-year student cases, and a little over 95% of all cases were academic and/or advising in nature. Between the six Persistence and Retention Teams, there were about 133 cases per team with a standard deviation just shy of 19 cases between groups.
Between all Persistence and Retention Teams, 72.38% of all first-year cases were resolved. When students met with their advisor, they were directed to speak with their instructors to discuss and diagnose their deficiencies in their respective course(s) and create a plan of action for improvement. They were also encouraged to attend Supplemental Instruction and the PASS Tutoring Center, and any other applicable academic or student service concerns were addressed, discussed, and properly referred.
Also, it was observed that, as a university, the highest fall-to-spring retention rate for first-time, full-time, first-year students was experienced after implementing the Persistence Teams. As a point of reference, we had an 88.52% retention of these students from the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2018. However, from the fall of 2018 to the spring of 2019, we had a retention rate of 92.38%. The Persistence and Retention Teams cannot be solely credited with this improvement; however, it did provide a vehicle for interventions that that may have contributed to the record fall-to-spring retention.
Anecdotal Evidence. On a departmental level, with the Department of Health and Kinesiology, a targeted advising campaign was sent to 17 students in the department who had cases issued following the mid-term grade reports for the fall 2018 semester. Upon meeting with the students, there was a common element of students not attending academic support services such as Supplemental Instruction and the PASS Tutoring Center. Furthermore, only a couple of the students had already met with their instructor to diagnose their deficiencies and create a plan of action to improve their performance in the course. During the appointments, students were directed to meet with their instructors to diagnose their deficiencies and create a plan of action to improve in the course. Also, students were highly encouraged to regularly attend SI and/or the PASS Tutoring Center.
The Persistence and Retention Teams are a great way to track student performance and initiate proactive advising when necessary. However, the teams also provide a system for administrative and staff colleagues to systematically problem solve on the behalf of students. During the spring 2019 semester, following census date attendance roster reports, multiple students in the Health and Kinesiology department were reported as not attending the same class. An advisor contacted the Enrollment Services Persistence and Retention Team representative and it was discovered that the attendance for the entire class had not been entered by the instructor, leading to all students being marked as having never attended the course. This prevented potential deleterious financial aid ramifications for all students in the course.
Also in the spring 2019 semester, a professor in the Health and Kinesiology department issued a case on a student that had not been attending class. The student met with their advisor to form a quality plan of action going forward that included dropping the course and retaking it over the summer. This helped keep the student on track for graduation, whereas without preemptive action, the student’s plan for graduation may have been disrupted.
Douglas Vardeman, MS
Academic Advisor III
College of Arts and Sciences
The University of Texas at Tyler
Acknowledgements. I would like to acknowledge and thank Ona Tolliver, Sarah Bowden and Ashley Bill of the University of Texas at Tyler for the initial development of the Persistence and Retention Teams.
Hope, J. (2016). Boost first-generation, low-income student attainment by removing barriers to success. The Successful Registrar, 16(9), 6–7. https://doi.10.1002/tsr.30239
Tett, G. (2016). The silo effect: The peril of expertise and the promise of breaking down barriers. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks
Cite this article using APA style as: Vardeman, D. (2019, September). Patriot strong: Persistence and retention teams. Academic Advising Today, 42(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]