Assessing for Student Success Phase 2: Assessing Student Persistence and Retention

D. Kent Johnson, PhD., Director of Assessment

The Office of Assessment launched the current assessment strategy three years ago.  Its continuing focus is to improve student learning through systemic assessment of student learning at the academic program level.  Critical to this programmatic emphasis is assessing learning in “core courses” a department identifies as building blocks to the major.  The assessment of student learning as students matriculate through core courses examines the extent to which student learning progresses relative to desired programmatic learning outcomes. These programmatic outcomes represent the knowledge, skills, and values an academic program expects students to achieve at the end of their matriculation to a degree.  Understanding how that learning is progressing is a critical component to examining how to improve the likelihood that students achieve the outcomes and measuring at specific points of intervention (i.e. courses) provides the data needed for departments to implement curricular interventions aimed at improving student success.

This year, the assessment strategy will build on this foundation to add the assessment of student retention at the institutional level.  Understanding the factors that contribute to student retention and departure in the first year are vital to the academic units as the pool of students available to pursue a major offered by an academic unit is dependent on the number of students matriculating to the second year.  The institution’s success in admitting new students and ensuring those students are retained through the first and second full semesters is essential to academic units sustaining enrollments that support viable academic units.

The assessment of student retention and success assumes that the admitted profile of students is interconnected with retention/completion rates.  It further assumes that absent interventions, retention rates and graduation rates are largely a function of institutional and student profile.  Improving retention and ultimately graduation rates, therefore, is dependent upon understanding the interactions of student and institution and using this information to design and implement interventions aimed at improving student success.

This 2017 Fall Semester, the Office of Assessment in coordination with the Office of Institutional Research  is conducting an assessment of first time, full time students.  This assessment is grounded in research on organizational factors that influence student persistence (Braxton and Francis, 2017) and research on the relationship of “grit” and perseverance (Duckwork, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly, 2007).

This assessment is the first activity in a larger formative assessment program aimed at improving student persistence to degree completion.  I look forward to sharing the findings with the university community at the beginning of the 2018 Spring Semester.


Braxton and Francis (2017). Organizational Assessment to Improve College Student Persistence. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, Vol 5, November 2, 2017, pp. 80-86.

Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly (2007). Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2007. Vol 92. No 6, pp 1087-1101.