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Otterbein Student Retention Rates on the Rise with Help from Center for Student Success

Westerville, OH – Otterbein’s Strategic Enrollment Plan set forth a first-year student retention rate goal of 82 percent by the 2020 academic year. As of Fall 2015, Otterbein achieved an 81.1 percent retention rate. Thanks to new policies and procedures implemented by the Center for Student Success (CSS), Assistant Dean of Student Success Kate Lehman knows that number will only continue to grow.

“It’s about our campus culture,” said Lehman. “We help get the student to where they need to go or find them an answer to a problem. That’s a win in my book.”

Founded in 2010, CSS was established to help guide the transition from a quarter to semester based academic calendar. Once that short-term need was met, they began their long-term goal of supporting academic advising. A major portion was focused on increasing student retention numbers, which at the time were at a recent low of 75.3 percent in fall 2010.

CSS began reshaping the interaction between the university and students.

“It’s really about making sure the student knows there is someone who can ‘connect the dots’ for them. We facilitate that connection between the students and available programs, faculty and staff who can meet a need or answer a question,” said Lehman.

Acting as this go-between, CSS has helped contribute to rising retention rates since 2010 with a variety of initiatives. The First Year Experience (FYE) was designed to introduce incoming students to the concepts of integrated learning early in their academic careers, but more importantly, FYE courses facilitate meaningful connections to faculty and peer mentors. The Achieving Max Potential (AMP) mentoring program also pairs a student with a faculty or staff mentor to help guide a student through their education.

Living Learning Communities (LLC) also were created in response to student retention concerns. Before the LLCs are open to the larger incoming student population, CSS identifies potential at-risk students using ACT benchmark data, geographic indicators and their selected majors, mainly focusing on undeclared as those students have a 10 percent lower retention rate than ones with a chosen major. LLCs allow connections to be made with other students on the same floor of their residence hall and work together towards similar learning goals.

Early warning systems are utilized to detect potential problem areas before they become larger issues that could force a student to leave school. Faculty and staff fill out a Cardinal Concern web form to report changes in a student’s behavior or attendance in a class. A similar process takes place at midterms as well. Professors perform attendance verification procedures as a way to make sure their students are present and engaged in their education. All three of these reports will elicit a joint response from CSS, the Academic Support Center and the Office of Academic Affairs to reach out to the student for encouragement, an open dialogue and a connection to any resources they may need.

CSS sees approximately 1,000 students visit the office each year searching for additional help on campus for academic and personal reasons. Lehman refers to it as “supplemental advising,” meaning CSS is not replacing the role of an academic advisor but rather helping with additional perspectives or gathering other resources.

Simply put: student retention is mainly about “connecting the dots.”



Tuition freeze and program expansions coming in 2016, Otterbein.edu

Otterbein to expand low-income program to more central Ohio districts, Columbus Dispatch

Otterbein University's Living Learning Communities (LLCs) video, Otterbein YouTube


Otterbein University is a small private university nationally-recognized for its intentional blending of liberal arts and professional studies through its renowned Integrative Studies curriculum and its commitments to experiential learning and community engagement. Otterbein is a recipient of the 2015 Carnegie Community Service Classification; a finalist for the 2014 President’s Award for Economic Opportunity Community Service; and has been honored With Distinction by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll since the list’s inception in 2006. It stands in its category’s top 10 percent in U.S. News & World Report’s guide to “America’s Best Colleges.” Otterbein offers more than 74 undergraduate majors; six master’s programs; and a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP). Its picturesque campus is perfectly situated in Westerville, Ohio, America’s fifth friendliest town (Forbes), just minutes from Columbus, the 15th largest city in the country. Otterbein’s commitment to opportunity started with its founding in 1847 as one of the nation’s first universities to welcome women and persons of color to its community of teachers and learners, which now numbers 2,400 undergraduate and 400 graduate students. Otterbein remains committed to its relationship with the United Methodist Church and its spirit of inclusion, and welcomes people of all backgrounds to Otterbein’s Model Community. To learn more about Otterbein, visit www.otterbein.edu.