Best Practices

Academic Advising

Best Practices for Student Engagement & Retention: How Faculty Can Help

  1. Many students come to college adrift and with no history of appropriate academic expectations ever being placed on them. They lack study skills or the capacity to plan their daily and weekly routines. First year students particularly need structure in their college lives. Once new students get even a week behind, they become at risk for giving up and dropping out. Recommendation: Implement a mandatory class attendance policy for all first year and other lower level courses. Report students who miss more than two classes in succession via SAGE so that a retention team member can contact them for follow-up.
  2. Evidence has consistently indicated the importance of new students connecting with their advisor(s) very early in their first semester of college. Recommendation: All advisors should meet individually or in small groups with first year students within two weeks of the start of the semester. Sooner is better!
  3. Persistence of second and third year students is a matter of growing concern. Recommendation: All advisors should meet individually or in small groups with returning second and third year students within the first month of the start of the fall semester to complete an academic “checkup” that ensures students are on track for achieving their educational, professional, and graduation goals.
  4. Some faculty may unintentionally encourage the notion that class attendance is not essential. (In fact, it is not essential if one only covers material that is in a text book.) Tinto (2011) and others advise making full use of the first day of class to engage students with the syllabus and the course material and other students in the class who should become partners in learning. Discussing pathways to success in the course is important in a first class session. Using an assessment of knowledge and course expectations can be an important part of the first class session. Handing out a syllabus and sending students on their way during the first class session is identified by Tinto and others as a practice to be avoided. Recommendation: Make effective use the first class sessions to build a culture for learning in the course.
  5. The timing and frequency of exams and quizzes in first year courses is critical. Best practice would be to have an assessment of some kind or quiz by the second or, at the latest, the third class. The maxim “test early, test often” is particularly important for first year courses. The outdated college practice of a mid-term and a final is lethal for underprepared first-year students. Spaced learning and demonstration of learning promote better retention of material. Recommendation: First year courses should follow the practices of assessing early and often and avoiding a small number of major examinations as the primary method of assessment. Low-risk or practice exams should be used to help students adapt to the expectations of college-level learning.