Career Connect Impacts Student Retention and Cumulative GPA!

Author: Scott Peecksen.


UNT faculty and staff from 19 courses and programs across 51 sections had students participate in Career Connect during fall 2017 and spring 2018 and the evaluation results are exciting! Based on causal methodologies to assess treatment impacts on student retention, these students were 1.35% and 14.6% more likely to return to UNT the following semester, compared to students who did not participate.

With Career Connect student participation doubling in year 2, we expect to retain significantly more students. Career Connect participation also positively impacted students’ cumulative GPAs for both semesters! These results are noteworthy because Career Connect used a rigorous group-comparison design that allows for causal inference of results. Thanks to all UNT faculty and staff (and, of course, their students!) who contributed to these important student-learning impacts during Career Connect’s first full-year of implementation!

Why is student retention important?  While high enrollment numbers are still considered metrics of success for universities, government and state funding has incorporated graduation rates as another key metric of student success. Even funding for public postsecondary institutions has become more dependent on tuition because of declining federal and state funding for higher education.

Similarly, regional accreditation agencies have placed a premium on student success. In 2016, the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions requested that two- and four-year institutions with poor graduation rates, compared to the national standard, account for how they are working to improve them. Four-year institutions with graduation rates at or below 25 percent over six years and two-year institutions at or below 15 percent over four years received such a request. This emphasis on performance-based outcomes suggests that student retention levels are growing in importance and will become even more significant in the near future.

Not only does increasing student retention rates yield a higher financial benefit, it is more cost effective to keep enrolled students than to recruit new ones. Student recruitment efforts are expensive, including staff hiring, marketing costs, and travel funding. In contrast, student retention initiatives are estimated to be 3-5 times more cost-effective than recruitment efforts.

Consider that if UNT could improve its retention rate by just one percent for its 40,000 students, it would generate millions of dollars in tuition from students every year who otherwise would have dropped out. Career Connect with its key focus on enhancing student retention and other learning outcomes can help UNT accomplish this goal, particular after Career Connect is fully implemented across all UNT departments. Ultimately, Career Connect is hoping to serve 10,000 students a year when it reaches its full implementation capacity and, if it continues to improve retention by more than 14 percent, Career Connect has the potential to generate more than $8.5 million annually.

By enhancing student retention, Career Connect also makes it less likely for students to default on their student loans; graduates are more likely to be gainfully employed and are five times less likely to default on college loans, compared to students who are not retained.  Career Connect may also indirectly help with recruitment through its impact on retention; students who are retained to graduation are more likely to recommend prospective students to their institutions, and more likely to be future donors of money or time to their alma mater.

Career Connect is preparing to analyze year 2 data and expects to find stronger treatment impacts on retention, compared to first-year results, because of the dramatic increases in UNT faculty and staff participation—almost double!  Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 data include up to 66 UNT courses and programs across 96 sections. In Fall 2019, Career Connect continued its expansion into departments and programs across UNT and expects to continue collecting impact data on student’s retention and GPA in 2020 and beyond! Please contact the Career Connect office to sign up (940-369-7520, UNTCareerConnect@unt.edu).