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To prove effectiveness and maintain or gain support for our programs
(financial support, especially), we, as Learning Assistance professionals,
should be proving that our programs have a positive impact on student
retention...even though we know that this is difficult to "prove" because
so many factors influence student retention/attrition.

For the past 2-1/2 years I have been struggling with the ability to
QUANTITATIVELY prove that our Learning Center services
(tutoring, writing lab, math lab, SI and study skills seminars) have a
positive impact on student retention.  I have used all the arguments
and evidence available to avoid having to attempt this mammoth
feat.  Now QUALITATIVE proof is NO PROBLEM.  I can come up with whatever is
necessary...but we do not have an easy way to track all students using the
LC services because our log-in database is not in any way connected to
the SIS (student information system).  We have to look up
all necessary information for each student who uses SI, etc, a VERY
time-consuming process.  Yet, the higher administrators still want to see
how the Learning Center affects student retention, and have become
discouraged to see that, since the implementation of the Learning Center,
overall LSSU student retention has remained the same.  Their concern now is
that, since its inception, the Learning Center has not made a difference on
student retention, so why should we continue to put money toward such a
program?

As most of us know, "qualitative" proof of student success is abundant in
what we do.  We can also show increases in usage/demand, comparison of
success rates of students using SI to those of non-SI students, and
final grade comparisons of those students receiving tutoring (although
Martha Maxwell suggests that this isn't a good measure (and I agree)).  But
how do we honestly prove that support services have an impact on retention?

I don't know...but to provide some numbers to prove the need for our
existence, we looked at the retention rate of all students using
LC services and found that 83% of those students were retained from Fall
1996 to Fall 1997, whereas the overall LSSU retention rate was much
lower.  This information seems to be enough for those who want to
see how various services affect "retention", although we
cannot say that these students were retained (or not) solely because they
used our services.  Even though loooonnnngggg hours were spent looking up
information on each student, if it is retention numbers you need, I
highly recommend getting them from wherever you can.  And include some
qualitative assessment with those numbers whether the administration asks
for that info or not.

Heather Newburg
Learning Center Director and Coordinator of University Studies
Lake Superior State University
Sault Ste. Marie, MI