Data to Action: Freshmen Retention Project

Data to Action: Freshmen Retention Project

freshmen, retention, data, student success, data to action
  • Assessment
  • Collaboration
  • Advising
  • Freshman Success
  • Retention
Average: 4 (1 vote)
Portland State University (OR)
  • Institutions
  • Institutions


Reduce freshmen student attrition during and immediately after the end of first year and facilitate students’ successful transition to second year.

  • Increase institutional capacity to solve student success related problems.

  • Identify students who are at risk of not succeeding in their first year.

  • Remove barriers to success and facilitate fall return for first year students.

  • Increase retention and student success at the institution.


Freshmen student attrition at Portland State University occurs throughout the academic year with the highest number of students leaving at two critical points: between fall and winter term, and spring and following fall. While a majority of students who leave, do so at one of these points, our assessment results indicate that many of the reasons preventing students to continue are either known beforehand, enabling us to intervene proactively, or could be dealt with when they occur. In either case, there is a need to focus on providing intervention in a systematic, coordinated manner. Freshmen Retention Project is one such coordinated approach involving University Studies, advising units, Office of Financial Aid & Scholarships, and Student Financial Services. The project uses multiple sources of data to support student success and aims to facilitate students’ continuous enrollment during the first year and successful transition to the second year. The project accomplishes this through outreach and intervention at critical points, and through ongoing intervention for students identified as at risk of not persisting beyond their first year.

About 10% of freshmen students who are admitted in fall do not transition to winter term and about 15-20% of the students who complete their freshmen year do not return the following fall. In addition, students who have major concerns about financing their education and students who are not sure about their plans (as identified in Freshman Inquiry Prior Learning Survey) tend to leave at a higher rate. Similarly, students with HS GPA below 3.0 and conditionally admitted students tend to leave at a higher rate. Finally, about 80% of the students who indicate (in the Freshman Inquiry End-of-Year Survey) they are not planning to return the following fall, do not come back. The Freshmen Retention Project is designed to intervene with students at critical junctions in their educational experience at Portland State University and facilitate continuous enrollment and successful transition to second year. To reduce the impact of financial concern and financial need on student success and retention, financial award has been added to the project. Financial award has an educational component attached to it (academic plan, financial plan) and the amount awarded is divided in two terms with the goal to facilitate second year planning and persistence. Students are identified and referred by faculty, advisers and Student Financial Services staff. The retention database built for this project serves as a dashboard to identify students as well as a tool for collaboration. Project Focus:

  • Conditionally admitted students
  • Students with HS GPA below 3.0
  • Students with financial concern
  • Student intent: Students unsure about their plans Action Items:
  • Ongoing: as students come in for advising, advisers pay attention to and address risk factors and areas of focus.
  • Outreach and intervention at critical points: check registration status and contact students who did not register using information provided in the retention database. o Fall to winter registration o Spring to fall registration
  • Communicate/intervene with students identified as leaving or at risk of leaving.
  • Include financial award as form of intervention: o Freshman Retention Project Financial Award o Develop financial and academic plans with students who qualify for the award
  • Document intervention and any interaction in the retention database.
  • Use retention database to facilitate campus-wide collaboration and intervention.
  • Project reach: number of students contacted.

  • Impact of outreach and intervention: number of students who are contacted and retained.

  • Impact of financial awards: number of students who received financial award and are retained.

  • Institutional retention for first-time full-time freshmen.

  • Increased institutional capacity to solve student success problems.
  • Changes in advising practices (more proactive approach).
  • Changes in interdepartmental communication and collaboration.
  • Helping change the way we think about using data to inform action; this is also changing our understanding of our students’ needs and strategies that are possible to support their success.
  • Contributed to an increase in retention for first-time full-time freshmen: 3.2% over a two-year period.
Retention rate, advising and student financial services pratices, collaboration, coordination of efforts.


  • Assessment data to identify students who need help;
  • Advising staff, financial aid staff, student financial services staff;
  • Project coordinator (not a full-time commitment);
  • Technology to facilitate the process.
  • Project built utilizing new advising staff hired through the University‚Äôs advising initiative.

  • Tuition remission for financial award (While award is beneficial, the project can exist without the award, if needed).

  • Clearly defined problem supported by data.

  • Point person needed to keep project on track.

  • Action oriented project which mobilized broad constituency.

  • Focused intervention.

  • Collaboration and intervention facilitated by technology (retention database).

  • Ongoing sharing of the results.

  • Common theme: How can we work together to provide what students need?

  • The project needs to include student levels beyond freshmen. Identification of risk factors for sophomores and beyond is in progress.
  • Retention database needs to be expanded to accommodate all students. CRM Talisma, which already exists on campus, may be used for that purpose.


Mirela Blekic
Retention Associate
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751-UNST
Portland, Oregon 97207
Phone: 503-725-9892
Fax: 503-725-5977

Mirela Blekic
Retention Associate
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751-UNST
Portland, Oregon 97207
Phone: 503-725-9892
Fax: 503-725-5977