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Faculty Roles in Student Retention


What role can faculty members play in improving student retention? How can a balance between academic rigor and student support be maintained?  These are not trivial questions, especially when research indicates that students remain in settings that:

1. engage them in meaningful learning activities and

2. support their academic and social needs.

This webpage will briefly summarize several important resources on student retention and will provide practical applications for the classroom:

Taking Student Retention Seriously: Vincent Tinto GO

Syracuse University’s Distinguished University Professor in the School of Education, Vincent Tinto, has conducted research and written widely about student retention issues and the role that faculty members can play.  He gives five main conditions that support student retention: expectation, advice, support, involvement, and learning.  That is, students are more likely to persist and graduate in settings that:

a. expect students to succeed

b. provide students with clear and consistent information about institutional requirements and give students effective advising about programs of study and career goals

c. provide academic, social, and personal support

d. involve students as valued members of the institution

e. foster learning

Fostering learning is ranked as the most important condition for student retention. The implications for what happens in the classroom and the importance of the faculty role are therefore evident. 

What can faculty members do?
* Set high standards in class. At the same time, provide the academic support that students need to succeed.

* Provide robust opportunities for students to be actively involved in the content.

* Teach explicitly the academic strategies that students need in order to learn the material and be successful in your course.

* Integrate learning and study strategies (note-taking, graphic organization, questioning techniques, vocabulary acquisition, and test prediction and preparation) into your course.

Act Policy Report - GO

This document outlines the importance of integrating strategies to address both academic and non-academic issues, such as academic success, social integration, academic confidence, student involvement, and motivation. Student persistence increases as the level of integration of social and academic issues increases.

 What can faculty members do?
Foster the integration of both academic (performance) and non-academic (motivation, academic self-confidence, and social integration) issues in your classes.

* Use team building activities, peer reviews, Supplemental Instruction (tutoring by peers), and give frequent and prompt feedback to students about their academic performance (including explicit improvement strategies)

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) - GO

The NSSE provides us with five benchmarks of effective practice that can be used to measure student engagement and satisfaction at 4-year institutions. The main conclusion is that there is an obvious correlation between student satisfaction, engagement in meaningful learning activities, and retention.

The survey was created after completing extensive research on 4-year institutions of higher education that examined the qualities characterizing successful institutions of higher education, i.e. a high degree of learning occurs, high retention and graduation rates exist, and a high degree of student satisfaction is present. 

The benchmarks of effective practice are:

a. Level of academic challenge - quantity of assigned readings and papers, degree to which higher-order thinking skills are included in the curriculum, significant hours required to complete coursework

b. Active and collaborative learning - making presentations, participating in discussions in and out of class, team projects in and out of class, tutoring other students, participating in community-based projects

c. Student faculty interaction – discussing grades, discussing ideas from class in and out of class, talking about career plans, receiving prompt feedback on performance, working with faculty on activities other than coursework, i.e. committees, orientation, etc., working on research projects outside of course requirements

d. Enriching educational experiences – students have the opportunity to have serious conversations with students of different race, ethnicity, social status, or ideology, spending time in co-curricular activities, using electronic media (listserv, chat, instant message, online discussion) to complete an assignments, practicum, internship, community service, foreign language or study abroad, independent study, culminating senior experience, participation in a learning community

e. Supportive campus environment – providing support for academic, social (building positive relationships), and non-academic (work, family) needs, quality relationships with students, faculty, administrative, and support personnel.

The survey states that "The single best predictor of student satisfaction with college is the degree to which they perceive the college environment to be supportive of their academic and social needs."

What can faculty members do?
* Examine each of the benchmarks above and decide how you can incorporate them into your teaching on a regular basis.

* Share your ideas with colleagues.

NSSE Occasional Paper: What Faculty Members Can Do - GO

The NSSE Institute (an outreach extension of the NSSE survey) produces occasional papers resulting from an intensive study of schools with higher-than-predicted graduation rates and that also demonstrated effective practices and policies for dealing with students with different abilities and learning goals. Student success strategies were documented from institutions that intentionally planned activities that required students to spend their time and energy on activities that matter to student learning.

They found nine strategies that faculty can implement to promote student success:

a. Embrace undergraduates and their learning – support academic and developmental growth. Seek to develop the talents of your students. Learn how to support students who are under-prepared academically.

b. Set and maintain high expectations for student performance – However, make sure to match the academic standards with the appropriate developmental and academic level of your students. Meet students where they are and stretch them to the next level.

c. Clarify what students need to know to succeed

d. Use engaging approaches appropriate for course objectives and students’ abilities and learning styles

e. Build on students’ knowledge, abilities, and talents

f. Provide meaningful feedback to students

g. Weave diversity into the curriculum including out-of-class assignments

h. Make time for students

i. Hold students accountable for taking their share of the responsibility for learning

Their research found that an essential ingredient in promoting student success is "an unwavering, widespread commitment to enhancing student learning on the part of faculty members."

 What can faculty members do?
* Incorporate the nine strategies into your classes.


To read more about faculty roles in student retention, visit the resources below.

Chickering, A. & Ehrmann, S. Implementing the seven principles: Technology as lever.
American Association for Higher Education. Retrieved May 11, 2006 from

Promoting Engagement for All Students: The Imperative to Look Within—2008 Results. Retrieved June 18, 2009 from

Kinzie, J. (2005). Promoting student success: What faculty members can do
(Occasional Paper No. 6) Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University
Center for Postsecondary Research. Retrieved May 11, 2006 from

Kuh, G.D., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J.H., & Whitt, E.J. (2005). Student success in college:
Creating conditions that matter.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Lotkowski, V., Robbins, S. & Noeth, R. (2004). The Role of Academic and
Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention. ACT Policy Report. Retrieved May 11, 2006 from

Tinto, V. (2001, June 19) Taking Student Retention Seriously.
Annual Recruitment and Retention Conference, Texas Higher
Education Coordinating Board. Austin, Texas. Retrieved May 11, 2006 from

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