Academic Advising Resources


Campus Wide Retention Planning: The Six-Minute 'Read'
Authored by: Bonnie Alberts

Since Tinto's challenge to 'Rethink the causes and curses of student attrition' (Tinto, 1987, and 1993). American higher education has faced the costly truth of high attrition and actively sought viable interventions to improve college student retention. ACT's most recent survey results, What Works In Student Retention? (ACT, 2004), summarize the current state of affairs in retention practices and concerns among over one thousand colleges and universities. By articulating these shared concerns, this ACT report serves to identify and focus appropriate targets, strategies, and recommendations for intervention. However, the best work in research and reporting is of little is if, as practitioners, we stay too busy to engage and learn from information and insights provided.

This ACT Survey Report, What Works In Student Retention?, offers the briefest possible overview of its results in a one page Executive Summary and a five-page view of 'Programs with the Greatest Impact on Retention' within a full report of their data, analyses, and recommendations.Section D of the survey presented eighty-two retention interventions from which institutions chose those they use and rated each for its contribution to retention. Of the practices with the greatest mean contribution to retention, three to five advising strategies placed among the top eight interventions, depending on the type of institution reporting (Two-Year Public, Four-Year Public, Four-Year Private, and All Surveys). It is also apparent that institutions with high retention and graduation performance are more likely to have implemented retention interventions from the Advising Program strategies. [See Summary Table D and Tables 8 and 10] (ACT, 2004).

As higher education professionals, we have watched and participated in efforts to find those 'cures' that answer Tinto's challenge to improve student success and persistence. Throughout this period of trial, error, success, and sharing our experiences, ACT has encouraged and supported our efforts with its continuous provision of useful research and data analyses to which we can anchor our practices and thereby evaluate our results. In 1979, ACT embarked on the first of six national studies on academic advising, the last of which was published as a NACADA monograph, The Status of Academic Advising: Findings from the ACT Sixth National Survey (NACADA, 2004). From its first What Works In Student Retention? (ACT, 1980) to its recent policy report, The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention (ACT, 2004), ACT has provided valuable documentation and guidance to higher education practices.
While some of the points made in the latest What Works In Student Retention? (ACT, 2004) are conspicuously common sense applications, others are provocatively insightful. Even the most common knowledge can provoke new meaning when seen from a previously unrecognized perspective. The data are clearly presented, but the analyses and consequent recommendations call for our active attention. To one who has participated in designing, developing and implementing integrated, comprehensive, academic and non-academic retention strategies on two community college and four university campuses, this report and these findings prompt a dichotomous response.

The report is heartening, because the findings and recommendations affirm our experiences. We know them to be correct; they take time, but they are effective and doable. While each recommendation is simple enough in and of itself, the complexity of coordination and implementation can be paralyzing. The antidote for this paralysis is to pay particular attention to two of the recommendations- 1) 'Designate a visible individual to coordinate a campus-wide planning team' (ACT, 2004), and make certain that it is someone with both the authority to act and the necessary skills to 2) '[o]rchestrate the change process' (ACT, 2004). The 'designated individual' will assure that the mission does not lose its momentum. The 'campus-wide planning team' will give the movement broad based interest and outreach to spectators who should be participants. And 'orchestrat[ing] the change process' will provide a rationale and infrastructure essential to the movement's endurance.
It is disheartening to realize that collectively, institutions virtually blame students for not persisting. 'Student characteristics cited as having the greatest impact were lack of motivation to succeed, inadequate financial resources, inadequate preparation for college, and poor study skills' (ACT, 2004). It would seem that even the two contributing institutional characteristics that surfaced-the amount of financial aid available and student-institution fit (ACT, 2004) were also about students' inadequacies. However, following the 'What Works.' recommendations may lead institutions through processes that could help them better define the points of departure between their students and their institutions, thereby clarifying ways in which the institution itself may be contributing to attrition by not advocating to provide appropriately what students need to achieve success. Certainly required remedial/developmental.mandated course placement.' (ACT, 2004) and tutoring and learning assistance represent efforts to narrow the gap between under prepared students and rigorous institutional expectations point of departure.

While the data vary slightly by type of institution-public/private, two-year/four-year-the concerns and recommendations are the same. The standing imperative is that we must 'read and heed.' Too few of us are aware of and take advantage of the available research and conclusions. From individual researchers to major contributors like ACT, NACADA, and CSRDE (Consortium of Student Retention Data Exchange), we have the gift of shared experiences and compiled and analyzed data, of which we make too little use. Perhaps, in some ways, we are our students. Fueled by a sense of futility, we may lack motivation to succeed at student retention, our financial resources may be inadequate, and we may be underprepared for the task at hand. Due to heavy workloads, we can benefit most from thoughtful summaries of pertinent research information.In What Works in Student Retention?Wes Habley, Randy McClanahan, and their ACT team have done a commendable job of analyzing, organizing, and presenting their findings. As committed professionals, we must reward that effort with our attention and response. What Works in Student Retention? is an easy read with a challenge to identify with the findings and relate them to our own institutional settings, while comparing or contrasting them to our own experiences. Armed with this knowledge and energized by these perspectives, can we provoke our institutions to respond to the retention challenges of our students?
At the core of these recommendations stands academic advising, particularly 'advising interventions for selected populations.' (ACT, 2004) and expanding advising to address career/life planning (ACT, 2004). 'Selected populations' is a chameleon term that can be applied to whomever you serve-under prepared students, non-traditional students, student athletes, probation students, honors students, millennial students. Wouldn't all of our students benefit from appropriate advising interventions? With 'lack of motivation to succeed.' among the highest contributors to attrition (ACT, 2004) and often tied to life relevance and goals, the value of expanded academic advising is too conspicuous to let pass. Nevertheless, enhancing academic advising alone cannot carry the burden of retention mandates and objectives. An integrated approach that addresses non-academic and academic issues necessitates collaboration across campuses to construct a net of awareness and practices to catch even the inconspicuous struggler.

The essentials of this ACT Report are presented in an Executive Summary-a one-page, one-minute read-and a five-page review of 'Programs with Greatest Impact on Retention' and specific recommendations for enhanced practices and retention interventions. This brevity facilitates sharing with under informed, yet essential, players whose cooperation and access to information also is restricted by their overloads and time constraints. At the same time, each element begs for extended attention and is ripe for use as a springboard for creative 'Think Tank' processes to evaluate the applicability and possibilities, as well as specific ways to manifest the intentions for a particular campus. If you are looking for a short cut to the starting point of a long and potentially fruitful journey to improved student retention, begin with What Works in Student Retention?  

What Works in Student Retention? Find the Executive Summary on page 6 in all categories and Section E with Recommendations on pages 18-22 in All Survey Colleges and pages 21-25 in other categories.

The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention 

Authored by:Bonnie Alberts
Black Hills State University


Tinto, Vincent. 1987 and 1993. Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. University of Chicago Press.

ACT, Inc. (2004). What Works in Student Retention? (Research Report).Iowa City, IA: W.R. Habley and R. McClanahan.

ACT, Inc. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention(ACT Policy Report). Iowa City, IA: V. A. Lotkowski, S.B. Robbins, and R. J. Noeth.

Additional Resources

Astin, A. W., (1993). What Matters in College?: Four Critical Years Revisited.ed.).San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gordon, V. N., Habley, W. R. (Eds.). (2000). Academic Advising: A Comprehensive Handbook.San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

et al. (2003). Student Academic Services: An Integrated Approach. (1 st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kuh, G. D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E. J. et al (2005). Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter(1st ed.) San Francisco, CA, Jossey-Bass.

Roueche, J. (1993). Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The At-Risk Student in the Open-DoorCollege . (1 st ed.).San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Seidman, A. (Ed). (2005). College Student Retention: Formula for Student Success>. Westport, CT : Praeger.

Cite this using APA style as:

Alberts, B. M. (2006). Campus Wide Retention Planning: The Six-Minute 'Read.' Retrieved -insert today's date- from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources website:

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