Mining cocurricular data to improve retention

Elon University, a private liberal arts institution in North Carolina, has been tracking cocurricular experiences since 1994.  And last year’s Comprehensive Records Project (supported by a grant from the Lumina Foundation) helped Elon take their student record to new heights.

The project, spearheaded by AACRAO and NASPA, helped Elon transform their transcript and reconstitute and expand their database. In addition to helping individual students design holistic academic and career pathways, it also helps the institution make evidence-based programmatic changes to support student success.

Using cocurricular data

“One of the biggest questions we get from registrars is ‘What impact will tracking co-curricular data have an an institution?’” said Rodney L. Parks, University Registrar at Elon. “People want to know what administrators can get out of tracking this data.”

Research shows that certain “high-impact” co-curricular learning experiences lead to higher retention. Elon’s extended transcript has given researchers the ability to run reports on co-curricular experiences and provide pathways based on student groups. Moreover, this data can help pinpoint specific attributes that drive higher retention rates for specific groups.

“Is there a specific pathway that we can encourage a student to take earlier in their career that might yield higher overall retention?” Parks said. For example, what impact does a service-oriented experience have on an incoming summer college program attendee? How does joining a fraternity or sorority affect student retention? Does a leadership or global education experience early in a student’s academic career lead to better outcomes?

By answering these kinds of questions, administrators can design interventions that align with institutional culture and improve retention rates.

“It’s about more than just retention,” Parks said. “It’s a blending of data. How engaged is a student that withdraws? Is it possible to be too engaged and end up with lower academic performance? Adding new dimensions of information help us get a better sense of how to advise students experientially as well as academically.”

Getting granular

“With this information, we can coordinate with specific activities and specific organizations,” said Jesse Parrish, Assistant Registrar at Elon. For example, a committee or administrator can use specific data on where students have successfully participated in the past to develop strategies to improve retention among a specific cohort. “Rather than just say ‘plug this student into a leadership experience,’ we can say ‘start with one of these five organizations’ where their students have succeeded in the past.”

Parks and Parrish will share their experience and answer questions at the AACRAO Annual Meeting in April. The session–”Mining Co-curricular Data to Impact Retention of Minority Students”–will cover pathway development strategies and ways to visualize data to help administrators develop evidence-based programming.

“We’ll talk about what to focus on and how to prioritize when building this type of credential,” Parrish said. “Different schools have different goals depending on their culture and student populations.”

“As you build [a co-curricular transcript], you’ll want to think about how to benefit your institutional culture,” Parks added. “How does this credential complement other topics common in our conversations–like students maintaining a full course load, withdrawals, students who have judicial problems, and so on? There are a lot of variables you can look at. And as you extrapolate common terms, you’ll start to see patterns and draw conclusions that will lead to higher retention–not just for minorities, but for a lot of different groups on campus.

“Plus, we have some pretty cool graphs to show.”

For a plethora of amazing infographics, Powerpoints, and more dynamic speakers than you can shake a stick at, register now for the AACRAO Annual Meeting, April 2-5 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.