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Idaho Colleges Find Success With Retention Strategies

Five Idaho colleges increased retention rates for non-traditional students by 500 percent above the national average by simply changing key practices. Results were achieved through a three-year pilot designed to improve retention and completion rates at Idaho community and technical colleges and fuel the state’s economy with skilled workers.


Non-traditional students — unemployed workers, alternative high school students, young single parents and dropouts — face work schedule conflicts, family obligations and geographic and financial barriers to higher education. Statistically, more than half of students who enter a two-year certificate or degree program in Idaho drop out in the second year, often debt-ridden.

The pilot project, funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, used nationally proven best practices designed to lower barriers and develop resilience. Schools delivered enhanced advising, mentoring and remediation techniques; monitored student progress; and created support groups for almost 500 non-traditional students.

The results are striking. After three years:
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    • Participants boasted a higher average GPA compared to the general Idaho freshman population


    • Almost 70 percent of students were retained in programs after the first year — a 500 percent increase over the national average


  • 75 percent of all credits attempted in the first year were completed, compared to 59 percent for the general student population


“This demonstrates we can take best practices and better serve our students,” said North Idaho College President Joe Dunlap. “Now, the linchpin is sustainability — the way we resource this in the future. There are different ways of doing business that support student success.

Based on the results of the pilot, recommendations for the state include:
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    • Change Idaho’s college funding from an enrollment-based formula to a student progress and degree completion formula, incentivizing colleges to graduate students not just enroll them


  • Every higher education institution in Idaho should adopt the pilot’s best practices for ALL students


The stakes for Idaho are high. According to the most recent data from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Idaho ranks 46th among states for college retention. The National Student Clearinghouse ranks Idaho last for the percentage of students going on from high school to pursue a two- or four-year degree.

Participating schools included:
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  • College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls
  • Eastern Idaho Technical College, Idaho Falls
  • Idaho State University, College of Technology, Pocatello
  • Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston
  • North Idaho College, Coeur d’ Alene


View White Paper:

GUIDED PATHWAYS TO SUCCESS: A report on the Idaho Continuous Enrollment Initiative Pilot 2011-2013