Freshman Involvement and Retention at Ohio University:
Intervention with Individual Potential Leavers
A. Michael Williford
Director of Institutional Research
Athens, OH 45701
Paper presented at the 37th Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research, Lake Buena Vista, FL, May 18-21, 1997.
Freshman Involvement and Retention at Ohio University:
Intervention with Individual Potential Leavers
Since 1982 Ohio University has practiced student retention at the individual level. Individual freshmen are identified from each freshman class as potential leavers after their participation in the Freshman Involvement Study while they are still enrolled at Ohio University. The study is conducted annually by the Office of Institutional Research and the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Office. A systematic plan was devised to collect student involvement data, identify individual potential leavers, and intervene with them to help resolve attrition-related problems they might have. Results from the involvement intervention project reveal that potential leavers can be identified successfully while they are still enrolled at Ohio University, and that this intervention has improved freshman retention. The findings support increasingly positive effects of the involvement intervention process.
Student involvement is related to quality of undergraduate education. The 1984 National Institute of Education report Involvement in Learning suggested that students who are more involved in activities related to their formal education will grow more as individuals, will be more satisfied with their education, will persist in their education to graduation, and will continue their learning after college. More recently, George Kuh's Involving Colleges discussed how colleges and universities should encourage student involvement on their campuses. One way to do this is to study student involvement. By assessing student involvement Ohio University identifies one aspect of its impact on its undergraduates. Involvement studies provide information important to retention programs. The Involvement Intervention puts this information to practical use.
The focus of the Involvement Intervention is on the freshman year. The experiences during the freshman year affect students' development and performance throughout college. Indeed, attrition occurs most frequently during the freshman year, and at most institutions retention programs are directed toward freshmen.
Institutional Research studies done at Ohio University have demonstrated that students who are more involved in their education are more likely to persist college. Results of the involvement studies have revealed that students are involved in a variety of activities during their four years at Ohio University, and that year-to-year increases in freshman involvement corresponded to year-to-year increases in freshman retention.
The positive effects of increased student involvement have been identified in other assessments at Ohio University. The benefits of involvement include general satisfaction with and commitment to Ohio University (which was indicated by responses to questions in the involvement study), a more effective general education experience (which was indicated by ACT College Outcome Measures Program scores), increased retention of freshmen from year to year, and satisfaction with Ohio University's programs as reported by alumni. Some of the reasons for high levels of involvement and satisfaction include improved perceptions of Ohio University at entry (which were reported in freshman marketing studies) and positive evaluations of treatment by University personnel and improved quality of information and processes (as reported in the freshman treatment studies).
As a result of this evidence, Ohio University encourages students to get involved in its academic and social life. With the positive relationship between student involvement and academic success being prevalent, and as Ohio University admits and enrolls more academically capable freshmen, new ways of continuing to involve and challenge these students are being developed.
Background and Description of the Case Study
The Student Involvement Study is one of several studies in Ohio University's multidimensional Institutional Impact and Assessment Project. The Office of Institutional Research and the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Office annually conduct the student involvement study. The four-page questionnaire, given to all freshmen living in the residence halls, collects information on students' academic involvement, social involvement and activities, and commitment to and satisfaction with Ohio University. In the spring quarter of each year all freshmen living in residence halls are given the student involvement questionnaire to complete. Questionnaires are distributed and collected by residence hall staff. The response rate is about 90 percent each year.
The Involvement Study was first conducted at Ohio University in 1979 as part of a University of Michigan Project CHOICE (Center for Helping Organizations Improve Choice in Education) study. The questionnaire later was revised at Ohio University, and the Involvement Study was incorporated into the Institutional Impact and Assessment Project during the 1982-1983 academic year. In the involvement intervention, involvement study responses are used to identify potential leavers, or individual freshmen who are likely to leave Ohio University after their freshman year but are academically eligible to continue. Ohio University has a university-wide selective admissions policy; students are less likely to leave because of academic disqualification. Individual freshmen who were predicted to be potential leavers are identified from their responses on the involvement questionnaire. A combination of a single question on returning the next year and a multiple regression formula are used to create a criterion for inclusion on the potential leaver list. The list of potential leavers was refined to eliminate students who were ineligible to return because of low academic performance (less than a 2.00 GPA). Various intervention methods were implemented over the years of the study, usually through contacts by Residence Life staff, faculty, and/or academic advisors. The primary contacts occur in the residence halls and are done by senior Residence Life staff. In the intervention contacts, these staff simply initiate a personal conversation with the students and attempt to identify any attrition-related problems they can help resolve. As a result of these contacts, students may be referred to the counseling center, financial aid, or academic advisors. The intervention contacts are scheduled to occur in the spring quarter before fall quarter preregistration. A goal of the intervention is to get the students to preregister for fall courses.
Beginning in 1991-1992 the potential leaver intervention program was expanded in two ways. First, female freshmen with above a 2.00 GPA in three of Ohio University's academic colleges were asked to complete a brief involvement questionnaire after fall quarter. These colleges were selected because their students had relatively higher female attrition. During winter quarter, staff from Residence Life and advisors from the three colleges contacted these potential leavers. Second, during the spring involvement intervention project with the entire freshman class, additional females with above a 2.00 GPA in these colleges with lower student involvement (academically and socially) were added to the regular intervention list. The spring intervention was carried out with the females from the early list and the females from the enhanced list added to the list of students identified in the regular process.
Beginning in 1992-93, the potential leaver early intervention program was expanded to include all black and Hispanic freshmen in the selected colleges and female freshmen with above a 2.00 GPA in another college. During winter quarter, staff from Residence Life and advisors from the four colleges contacted these potential leavers. Then, beginning with the spring 1993 involvement intervention project with the entire freshman class, additional female students with above a 2.00 GPA in the above colleges with lower student involvement (academically and socially) were added to the regular intervention list. The spring 1993 intervention was carried out with the students from the early list and the female students from the enhanced list added to the list of students identified in the regular process.
Results of the Intervention
In each spring quarter, 300 to 400 total potential leavers are identified. Residence Life staff contact them and record the outcomes of their conversations. In 1996, 74 percent of the potential leavers said they would return to Ohio University the next fall quarter. Twenty-two percent said they would transfer to another institution, 5 percent said they would leave Ohio University, and 1 percent were undecided. The percentage of potential leavers who said they would return to Ohio University increased from 1992 to 1996 under the enhanced intervention. The percentage of potential leavers who said they would leave or transfer decreased.
Stated plans for returning and the actual return rates were higher among the students identified in the additional intervention programs. Early-identified students had the highest return rate after three intervention contacts, two in winter quarter (Residence Life staff and academic advisors) and one in spring quarter. The extra-identified students had the lowest return rate among the three groups. However, these additional females received an intervention contact that may have increased their return rate. Potential leavers identified in the regular intervention process continued to have return rates consistent with previous years'.
The potential leavers are tracked to the next academic year. Among potential leavers who said they would return to Ohio University during the intervention contacts in 1996, 88 percent actually returned, and 12 percent did not return. Among potential leavers who said they were undecided about returning, 50 percent returned, and 50 percent did not return. Among potential leavers who said they would transfer to another institution, 6 percent returned, and 94 percent did not return. Among potential leavers who said they would leave Ohio University, 17 percent of them returned, and 83 percent did not return.
A significant relationship exists between potential leavers' intention to transfer from, leave, or return to Ohio University and whether or not they actually enrolled the next quarter. There was a strong relationship between potential leavers saying they would return and their returning next fall; more returned than were expected. There also was a strong relationship between potential leavers saying they would transfer and their leaving Ohio University.
Return rates differed among the types of intervention the student received. Fifty-two percent of the students identified in the regular intervention process returned. Ninety percent of the early-identified students and 49 percent of the extra-identified students returned.
The potential leavers who were identified in spring quarter were tracked to the following fall quarter. In 1996 and 1995 the percentage of potential leavers returning was 67 percent, down slightly from 69 percent in 1994, but up from 63 percent in 1993 (60 percent in 1992 and 54 percent in 1991).
Involvement Survey Findings
It is apparent that involvement is strongly related to the undergraduate educational experience and retention of students at Ohio University. Descriptive results of the involvement survey data reveal that along with annual increases in freshman retention, students are increasingly involved in a variety of academic and social activities. Being involved in the life of the campus, both academically and socially, is important to Ohio University students. Students' ratings of commitment to Ohio University increased over the years of this study. These ratings are important because a positive relationship exists between freshman attitudes toward faculty and their decision to return to Ohio University as sophomores.
Summary Evaluation: Evidence of Success of the Intervention
Results from the involvement intervention project reveal that students who were potential leavers can be identified while they are still enrolled at Ohio University. The findings support increasingly positive effects of the involvement intervention process. Significantly high numbers of students identified as potential leavers (who are academically eligible to return to Ohio University) actually returned each fall. Among potential leavers who said they would leave Ohio University, fewer students than expected drop out each year. Stated plans for returning and the actual return rates were higher among the students identified in the additional programs. Early-identified females had the highest return rate after three intervention contacts, two in winter quarter (Residence Life staff and academic advisors) and one in spring quarter.
Findings from the Institutional Research Tracking/Retention Study also support the success of the intervention program at Ohio University. Before the program began, in 1982, 19 percent of all freshmen with over a GPA of 2.00 or higher dropped out by their sophomore year. This percentage was reduced to 9 percent in the 1992 class and 12 percent in the 1995 class. These results suggest that intervention programs targeted at students with over a 2.00 GPA have been successful over the last few years. Overall freshman retention increased from 72 percent in 1982 to 83 percent in 1995.
Because a strong relationship exists at this campus between freshman involvement and freshman retention, freshmen are encouraged to get involved in campus life, such as with faculty outside the classroom or through student activities. Beyond the freshman year, Ohio University conducts a longitudinal involvement study. This study is designed to assess change in student involvement from the freshman to the senior year. The longitudinal involvement study informs faculty and staff about how student involvement changes over time. Knowing about the different kinds of involvements students have at different points enables faculty and staff to deal more effectively with them. Using the freshman Involvement Study data to identify individuals who are likely to drop out puts this study to practical use beyond the information value of the survey.