[Video] Learn How to Track Retention Among Adult Students


By: Christopher Tashjian Jul 11, 2016

Scott Jeffe: Hello, my name is Scott Jeffe and I’m a Senior Director at Aslanian Market Research here at EducationDynamics. I would like to thank you for joining us for another Session Spotlight, where I introduce you to speakers of the Conference on Adult Learners Enrollment Management (CALEM) 2016. Joining me from Charlotte, North Carolina I have Emily Richardson of Queens University. Emily is the Dean of the Hayworth School of Graduate & Continuing Studies. She is responsible for the adult learning population in both online and seated modalities. Prior to this position, Emily was the Associate Vice President of Boundless Learning at Stetson University for two years and began her adult education career at Widener University where she spent 21 years, initially teaching in the School of Hospitality Management. She also served as Dean of the University College, a home for the non-traditional student prior to her departure. This year, Emily’s session at CALEM will focus on tracking retention and persistence among adult students. Her presentation will offer solutions developed at Queens University to better define their adult students and their enrollment patterns. This is a particularly sought after topic among CALEM attendees and as such, I was really pleased to get Emily’s proposal. Thank you for taking the time to join me today Emily. How are you this afternoon?  

Emily Richardson: Great Scott, thanks for asking  

Scott JeffeWhy did you decide to focus your CALEM session on measuring retention and persistence of adult students?

Emily Richardson:  Having worked with adult students for close to 20 years, I’ve realized that as continuing educators we don’t spend enough time analyzing the data. Why don’t we, one might ask?  It is because it is often difficult to get the right data.  Our students, especially those that are degree seeking, often start in the fall, spring and summer.  They move from part-time to full-time and back.  They don’t take any form of a normal track while attending school.  To better understand them we need to make sure that we are watching their actions – are they persisting from one semester to another?  Are they retaining from one year to another?  Are they graduating?  Focusing on recruitment and admissions is just not enough. We need to realize that enrollment is also driven by retention and persistence.

Scott JeffeHow does measuring or tracking retention and persistence differ for adult students, as compared with their traditional counterparts?

Emily Richardson: The traditional student’s retention and persistence are measured by IPEDS, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, that conducts surveys annually.  In the past, they measured first-time students, fall starts as their main cohort.  Transfer students who start in the fall, or spring or summer were not even counted.  As a result, many universities, don’t count keep track of the adult student.  The definition of retention is often fall-to-fall only.  That just doesn’t work for adult students. For example, if I had students that worked for a corporation, that fall was their busiest season for work, they might not even attend in the fall, but they do attend in the spring and the summer.  These students as a group would not be counted because they didn’t start in the fall, and they were transfers.  They need to be counted and measured.  They are attending two semesters during the year, even though it isn’t the traditional fall /spring sequence.  

Scott JeffeWhat are the most important elements of what you put in place at Queens University to get a better sense of adult student persistence?

Emily Richardson: Each semester we declare a new cohort – anyone who started in that semester as a undergraduate degree-seeking student.  At the end of their first semester we see how well they have done in their first semester – credits completed and GPA.  We then check on whether they “persist” into the next semester, and again follow that through.  We are also looking at whether the major chosen or the transfer credits brought in are making a difference in their persistence and retention.  

Scott JeffeDo you have some tips that can be used to breakdown institutional resistance to developing metrics on adult student persistence?  

Emily Richardson: It becomes the situation where someone has to be vocal about the differences.  And when data is shared, one needs to ask how adults are being counted.  I have great statistics for demographics – a snapshot taken every fall.  The question I’m currently asking is whether those stats are the same in the spring, in the summer. Secondly, I think that a conversation needs to occur with institutional effectiveness or the data people on your campus about the definitions of what persistence and retention are, and how are they computed for the different student types.  

Scott Jeffe: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for me today Emily, and I’m looking forward to hearing your entire presentation at CALEM on July 19th in Alexandria, VA this year! For everyone watching this, be sure to check out our website www.calemconference.org for a list of all 30 speakers that will be presenting at CALEM 2016.

Emily Richardson: Thank you Scott and I look forward to seeing you at CALEM.