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November 12, 2002

Retention initiatives help more Purdue students graduate

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – More than 800 additional Purdue University students are more likely to earn their bachelor's degrees, thanks to programs that helped them excel and adjust to college life.

These Purdue students, from all four system campuses, participated in new programs funded by a Lilly Endowment five-year, $5 million grant that supported new and existing efforts to keep students in school and help them graduate within a six-year period.

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On Friday (11/15) Purdue will review how the new programs help students during the Capstone Conference of the Purdue University Lilly Endowment Retention Initiatives at Stewart Center on Purdue's West Lafayette campus.

"We focused on programs that increased student learning and satisfaction that, in turn, affect retention rates," said Andrew Koch, senior project officer for the Purdue University Lilly Endowment Retention Initiatives. "By improving student retention we will improve the baccalaureate degree completion rates in Indiana."

Student learning and satisfaction were improved with a number of programs that focused on specific student learning needs. The programs ranged from initiatives that created learning communities in which students took classes with peers who had similar academic interests and lived in the same residence halls, to the enhancement of academic advising and academic support services.

Learning communities were composed of first-year students from the same major, or with similar interests, who were enrolled in the same two or three courses. These courses were designed to be cohesive, so the students could write in their English class about what they learned in their biology course. The grant also allowed faculty to lead out-of-class activities that reflected the learning communities' common theme. For example, if the learning community was constructed around biology or animal science majors, then the group of students might visit a local humane society. In the 1999-2000 academic year, the first learning community included 46 students. This year the program has expanded to 19 learning communities that benefit more than 900 students.

Learning communities are one of 10 broadly defined, grant-funded initiatives that helped increase the retention rate for the Purdue statewide system, which includes campuses at West Lafayette, Purdue Calumet in Hammond, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne and Purdue North Central in Westville. Systemwide, first-to-second year retention rates increased from 76.3 percent in 1996-97 to 80 percent in 2000-01. On the West Lafayette campus, the retention rate increased from 85 percent to 88 percent during the same time period. The 1996-97 year is the benchmark year for the grant.

"The increase might seem small, but half to three-quarters of a percent is a normal fluctuation," Koch said. "We are seeing a difference of a couple percentage points, and that is significant when you see 826 more students on their way to graduation.

"Even with such great results, we plan to take it to the next level. Retention at West Lafayette is 88 percent, and we continue to work to get that number higher. Also, it's in the early stages, but we are starting to see that an increase in retention rates affect graduation rates, and that will benefit the Indiana work force."

Retention initiatives focused on students who were in the first year and, in some cases, their second year, of school. This period in a student's career is pivotal because half of the students who left Purdue voluntarily did so after the first or second semester, Koch said.

The retention programs were geared to all students, and nearly 24,000 students participated in the Lilly initiative systemwide. On the West Lafayette campus 7,295 students were involved.

One of the largest groups of students to benefit from Lilly initiatives are those who participated in proactive academic advising at Purdue North Central. More than 7,000 students participated during the project, which used Lilly grant funds to hire four professional advisers and support staff to provide academic advising services in academic departments for about half of the North Central campus. The students who were counseled by these Lilly advisers in the proactive academic advising initiative had significantly higher first- to second-year retention and baccalaureate degree completion rates when compared to students who did not participate, Koch said.

Supplemental instruction also is one of the initiatives that retained higher rates of students on the West Lafayette and IPFW campuses.

On the West Lafayette campus, supplemental instruction places high-achieving course veterans in 100- or 200-level courses that are identified as high risks. Courses are labeled as high-risk when 30 percent or more of the students historically earn grades of D or F or withdraw from the class. Once a class is identified as high-risk, undergraduate students who previously earned an A in the course are employed to lead review and study skill sessions for current students.

"The weekly student-led review sessions help improve understanding of course material and teach applied study skills," Koch said. "This, in turn, improves student learning and persistence."

At both campuses at least a 17 percent increase in the cumulative retention rate was recorded for supplemental instruction participants – a total of more than 10,000 students between the two campuses. Also, the three-year graduation rate for participants is slightly higher than the rate for non-participants.

Highlights from the 10 grant-funded initiatives will be shared at the Capstone Conference, as well as how versions of the programs varied between campuses according to their needs. The grant ended this summer, and part of the conference's mission is to determine the next step. The conference is titled "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow ... A Celebration of Lessons Learned, Successful Outcomes and Future Directions."

"We want to share what Purdue is doing, and we want to share what we've learned in the process," Koch said.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Conference invitations were extended to representatives from the Purdue system and 32 institutions in the state that receive public or private support from the Lilly Endowment for initiative efforts. The Capstone Conference will be in Stewart Center, Room 302. The conference agenda is available at http://www.purdue.edu/Retention/Capstone/index.html#agenda. A publication-quality photograph of Purdue engineering freshmen participating in the learning community, Physics on the Farm, is available.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, apatterson@purdue.ed

Source: Andrew (Drew) Koch, (765) 496-3618, akkoch@purdue.edu

PHOTO CAPTION:

Purdue University students from the School of Freshman Engineering apply physics theories at an event called Physics on the Farm as part of the freshman engineering learning community. These students from the West Lafayette campus, as well as students on all Purdue campuses, participated in new programs funded by a Lilly Endowment five-year, $5 million grant that supported new and existing efforts to keep students in school and help them graduate within a six-year period. More than 800 additional Purdue students are more likely to earn their bachelor's degrees thanks to Lilly programs such as learning communities. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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