Successful Strategies to Increase Retention of Low-Income College Students

A new report from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education examines practices undertaken by public universities that have been successful in retaining and graduating low-income students. This is of particular importance to African Americans because blacks make up a disproportionately large share of all low-income college students in this country. More than one quarter of all students who receive federal Pell Grants are black. These grants are restricted to families with low incomes.

The Pell Institute examined retention procedures at 14 large state universities that were rated as moderately selective in their admissions procedures. The survey found that 10 of these 14 institutions graduated low-income students at a high rate. They then searched for practices and procedures that these high-performing institutions shared which would help explain their success in graduating low-income students. Among the factors common to all high-performing universities were:

• The designation of faculty advisers or mentors who are charged with helping individual students navigate through their college careers.
• A high level of student involvement in campus activities.
• Specific programs such as freshman orientation, freshman interest groups, and freshman seminars in which student participation is mandatory.
• Concerted efforts to improve instruction in low-level introductory courses.
• Striving to keep class sizes down.
• Early warning systems to identify students who are at risk of dropping out.
• Academic support services to help students who are struggling to keep up and social support services to help students with nonacademic problems.