Skip to Content

Four West Coast Colleges Will Work Together To Improve First-Year Retention

June 26, 2018

By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation


Universities and colleges have been effective at recruiting first-generation college students and those from diverse, low-income backgrounds. Recent data shows that low-income students enroll at postsecondary institutions at a higher rate than students from middle-income backgrounds.

While increased numbers of students from underserved backgrounds are entering postsecondary institutions, many do not persist and graduate, often due to the lack of support services and resources available to help meet their unique needs.

Four institutions – the California State University’s campuses at Channel Islands, Fresno and Northridge along with Portland State University – have made it their goal to address their common problem: first-year dropout rates that hover around 20%. The collaborative project, which begins this fall, will focus on building data sets that identify risk factors for dropping out; as well as establishing communications protocols to reach at-risk students.

The collaboration is the result of a challenge grant supported by ECMC Foundation and in partnership with the University of Innovation of Alliance (UIA), a group of 11 public research institutions committed to increasing the number and socioeconomic diversity of college graduates. Designed to spawn new campus networks to foster the UIA’s culture of collaboration, the challenge grant offered three awards of up to $75,000 to participants in the recent UIA National Summit who became inspired to develop and advance new collaborative work as a result of attendance.

Q&A with Campus Leadership

California State University Channel Islands

LeafstedtJill Leafstedt, Ph.D.
Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Innovations
Senior Academic Technology Officer

Q: At what point did you realize that collaboration was critical to get this issue of student retention solved?
A: During the UIA Summit, it became clear that campuses across the nation were struggling with similar questions about retaining students. In conversations with colleagues, we began to realize that we did not need to reinvent the wheel as we tackled this challenge, but that we needed to learn more from each other. Collaborating will bring in new, fresh perspectives and help us uncover historical roadblocks to solving difficult challenges.

California State University Northridge

HernandezMiguel Hernandez
Graduation/Retention Specialist

Q: What do you hope to learn by working together with the other three campuses?
A: We hope to appreciate collaboration and innovation on various fronts. One tends to focus only on one’s experience, but when presented with information from various points of view, one can better understand issues faced individually, but with a more generalist perspective. By doing so, openness and willingness to see what is being done right, or what needs to be corrected and improved, is clarified by the collaborative process. As information and aims are shared and discussed, all benefit from each other’s strengths and weaknesses in order to improve our communication styles with freshmen in order to maintain and strengthen retention.

California State University Fresno

muscatBernadette Muscat, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, College of Social Science

Q: You stated in your project proposal that this is a social justice issue. Can you elaborate?
Our emphasis on First Year Experience (FYE) is important, as our students often identify themselves as first generation, under-represented minorities, Pell recipients with significant barriers to access, retention and graduation. This is a matter of social justice for our campuses and communities, as we recognize more must be done to help students overcome cultural, financial, and institutional barriers to success. FYE is important for students to feel welcome, engaged, and connected, as well as have access to resources needed for retention and timely graduation.

Portland State University

ReadingNiki Reading Assistant Director of Student Success Communications, The School of Business

Q: What will you bring to the partnership?
Portland State University’s School of Business has been focused on working as a team to improve freshman retention using data analysis and strategic communication for the past two years. We have seen great preliminary results and we are excited to expand the team approach to include other campuses. We know that by sharing ideas and working together, we can help ensure more students who come to college graduate with a degree.

Back to News