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Student Retention: What is most important to students?

Students stay and students go for many reasons. In order to find the variables having the most impact on student retention, Noel-Levitz published a report that examined 15 years of data on student satisfaction and priorities at four-year private colleges and universities in the United States. The report looks at overall student satisfaction, issues students deemed most important, and the most significant changes between the 1994-1995 and 2009-2010 academic years.

Noel-Levitz sent its Student Satisfaction Inventory to more than 740 four-year private institutions, generating more than 1.2 million unique student responses. As part of the survey, Noel-Levitz asked students to rank items in order of importance to find out what is most important in their decisions to stay with a particular institution.

Top 15 most important items to students in the 2009-2010 academic year:

  1. The content of the courses within my major is valuable.
  2. The instruction in my major field is excellent.
  3. Nearly all of the faculty members are knowledgeable in their fields.
  4. The quality of instruction I receive in most of my classes is excellent.
  5. I am able to register for classes I need with few conflicts.
  6. My academic advisor is knowledgeable about requirements in my major.
  7. Tuition paid is a worthwhile investment.
  8. I am able to experience intellectual growth here.
  9. It is an enjoyable experience to be a student on this campus.
  10. There is a good variety of courses provided on this campus.
  11. The campus is safe and secure for all students.
  12. Major requirements are clear and reasonable.
  13. Adequate financial aid is available for most students.
  14. My academic advisor is approachable.
  15. Faculty members are fair and unbiased in their treatment of individual students.

These findings are consistent with those from the 1994-1995 Student Satisfaction Inventory findings. In fact, the first six items were ranked in the exact same order 15 years ago.

Here are some of the major changes between the 1994-1995 year and the 2009-2010 year:

The three largest shifts up in importance are:

  • The expectation for the experience being enjoyable: It has become more important for students to enjoy their experience and to feel like they fit in at the institution.
  • Academic support services meeting student needs: This shift could possibly stem from more self-reported learning disabilities and student recognition of needing academic support.
  • Administrators being approachable: Societal influences on being able to communicate with individuals more readily with e-mail and texting may be extending to the expectation to reach college administrators more easily.

The three largest shifts down in importance are:

  • Library resources and library staff: This could be because schools have invested in making these better over the past 15 years, so the issue is not as critical; or students are able to access more information online, so the library resources on campus are not as critical.
  • Living conditions in the residence hall are comfortable: More students in 2009-2010 are living off campus, so this may have an impact in this shift, or again more attention to the facilities issues in recent years have made this less of an issue.
  • Faculty care about students as individuals: This may be influenced by class sizes getting larger with budget cut backs or students feel that they are able to more easily communicate with faculty on an individual basis through e-mail, so the item has become less important.

Culver, T. (2011). 2011 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities 15-Year Trend Report: Four-Year Private Colleges and Universities Findings and observations from 1994-1995 to 2009-2010. Retrieved from http://www.noellevitz.com/BenchmarksReports

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