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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

Last modified: Wednesday, August 8, 2007

What makes for academic success?

School of Education professor continues study for College Board

Aug. 8, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University School of Education researcher is examining what colleges and universities do to ensure students stay in school and graduate -- an increasingly important marker for higher education accountability and much-scrutinized "best college" rankings.

Don Hossler, professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and director of the Project on Academic Success, said the College Board renewed for the third year a funded project focusing on student persistence and graduation. Over three years, the non-profit organization has provided $850,000 for the College Board Pilot Study on Student Retention.

Hossler said most literature on student persistence and graduation focuses on the student experience, as did the first portion of the College Board study. In the next portion of the project, Hossler wants to develop a survey that can better determine what policies and practices work best for colleges trying to keep students in school and on track to matriculate.

"We know almost nothing about what colleges and universities do to organize themselves, what kind of policies and practices they put into place," Hossler said.

Many universities cite retention as a priority, he said, but devote very little resources or personnel to organizing or coordinating the task. A limited study of public and private four-year institutions in five states by the Project on Academic Success revealed the average number of full-time employees on a campus devoted to retention was less than 30 percent.

"Most of them have no budgetary authority," he said. "Many of them have no policy-making authority."

Just under 60 percent of the campuses had a retention coordinator.

The need for investigating campus practices is important these days, Hossler said, because the retention rate is becoming a key ranking and policy-making tool. Aside from the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings, which gave retention rates up to 25 percent of the weight in compiling final tallies for the most recent rankings, the federal government has moved toward using the numbers as an accountability measure. Hossler noted Congress failed to pass a bill in the last session that would have made retention rates a stronger factor.

"A lot of assertions are out there about how important it is, yet the scant evidence that's out there would raise some questions about its importance," Hossler said.

While a vice-president or chancellor for retention is unlikely to exist at most campuses, Hossler said many campuses could get the job done by having a coordinator. He said the task of retention calls upon many different aspects of a student's campus experience.

"It can be everything from advising, to adequacy of financial aid, to policies and practices around academic withdrawal," he said. "I don't think you can have a czar or czarina that just says, 'You will do this.' But I do think you need someone who has a fair amount of their time devoted to looking every year at, 'How are we doing?'"

After the College Board pilot study is done, Hossler said the organization intends to do a national survey of student experiences and best practices.

Media Outlets: Quotes from Don Hossler are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at Click on the link beneath "Podcasts" that reads, "What makes for academic success? School of Education professor continues study for College Board." For a transcript of the quotes, visit: