The end of the year is always an exciting time as we start to see students in their graduation robes taking photos across campus. It reminds me why we do the work we do. But it also makes me think about the students who didn’t make it to graduation and where their path has taken them. As we all know by now, MSU has set a goal to have an 86% graduation rate with no opportunity gaps by 2030. Since federal graduation rate reporting is calculated on 6 years, that cohort will begin in Fall 2024. My boss, Mark Largent, has taken to letting us know how many days there are until that cohort of students starts (851 as of April 28). While that may seem like a long time from now, there is a lot of work that needs to happen before they start. In order to reach an 86% graduation rate with no opportunity gaps, we will need a collaborative, intentional, and strategic retention strategy. Yet before we are even ready to think about aligning retention efforts, we first need to tackle a giant barrier: data.
Now some of you may be surprised to hear me say that data is a barrier. You all know I love data and frequently talk about how wonderful it is that MSU is such a data rich campus. That is still true, but there are still some large pieces of data that are missing. For instance, we do not currently have data on why students leave, stay, or come back after some time away. Unlike many of our peer institutions, we do not currently have any form of institutional exit survey. We collect some data if a student happens to let their advisor know or needs a transcript to transfer to a different institution, but that is not collected or stored in any systematic manner.
Even the data we do regularly and systematically collect is stored in various disconnected databases or locations that make it difficult to access all the information needed without logging in to numerous systems or calling various colleagues. Students stay and leave for a variety of reasons and being able to support a student to stay at MSU involves needing data related to all those reasons. When supporting a student, I regularly find myself logging into multiple systems and/or calling several colleagues to try to get all the information I need to know how to best support the student. I am sure many of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about because you do it too!
When I look at our peers who do intentional retention work with intrusive outreach well, they all have well aligned data structures. This allows their retention staff easy access to all the data they need to identify students who need support and target outreach efforts around students’ needs and experiences.
This is why I am excited to share that we are creating a Retention Data Task Force. This short-term work group will be tasked with identifying all the retention-related data on campus, how they currently do and don’t align with one another, what data is missing that would be helpful, and proposing policies and practices for how we can become a retention-focused campus. If this sounds like something you would be interested in participating on, or you know institutions who do this well that we should speak with, I would love to hear from you.