One way that libraries can demonstrate value is through impact on student retention. This blog post from Jaime Hammond has examples of three libraries pursuing correlation studies of library impact on student retention.
The ACRL Student Retention Discussion Group, formed in 2012 to “discuss methods, best practices, and assessment for developing case-by-case and programmatic efforts related to student retention,” met at ALA Annual in San Francisco. This year’s program featured panelists who had successfully demonstrated a relationship between their library and student retention at their institution.
The first panelist was Patricia Banach, Director of Library Services at Eastern Connecticut State University. Banach described a college-wide retention study that identified non-attendance in a mandatory library orientation program as being an early indicator of dropping out. Attendance at the orientation was one of the most significant variables relating to student retention and correlated with the admissions variable that indicated at-risk students. Anyone not already flagged as at-risk who missed the library orientation was placed in a proactive advising group early in the first semester. However, retention remained difficult to correlate to information literacy skills, despite efforts to collect baseline skills in the orientation.
Diane Bever, Reference and Information Services Librarian, and Yan He, Information Literacy Librarian, both from Kokomo Library, Indiana University were next to speak. Indiana chose to replicate the University of Minnesota study (http://librarydatastudentsuccess.blogspot.com). Publicizing widely across campus, they collected multiple types of data, including:
- reference questions,
- circulation statistics,
- library instruction attendance,
- material delivery and InterLibrary Loan requests, and
- EZproxy log ins
Librarians then requested data from IR for those students, all of whom had used a special username to log in and had also signed an opt-in consent form. While only 75 students signed the consent form, the findings were representative of the campus as a whole. Students who used the library had a significantly higher GPA and 92% were retained from fall to spring of that year, compared to 47% of non-library users.
While pleased with the results, Bever and He stressed partnering with institutional research staff and early publicity as keys to success. They also felt that an opt-out consent would have yielded greater usable data, and swipe cards would make the process easier for students and prevent illegible handwriting from impeding data collection. Finally, they plan to collaborate with IT and the student writing center to collect more data and will share their findings with the library community as well as their own college.
The next panelist, Rachel Cannady worked with new students as the Scholarly Resources Librarian for Education at the University of Texas, San Antonio (and until recently, at Mississippi State).. Because these were new online students, they never set foot on campus, and so Cannady created a module in the college’s online orientation series on the library for both undergraduate and graduate students. The online module was very highly rated by participants. The goal of the program was to ease students into distance education- particularly because distance students thought they wouldn’t have access to the library. Cannady also shared research regarding the correlation between orientations and retention, and that students leave college because they feel as if they don’t fit in, especially during the first semester. She stressed the importance of sharing library data relating to retention and maintaining parity between on ground and online services.
Kathleen Pickens, the Coordinator of Information Services at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, stressed qualitative assessment. Pickens noted that funding in Ohio is directly tied to retention and completion, rather than enrollment. However, it is difficult to pinpoint impact on students because there are so many factors involved. Students coming to the library are asked, ““how did the library help you be successful this year?” Pickens also recommended demonstrating value by supporting services and providing resources to at-risk students, and then sharing that information in newsletters and other publications.
The session concluded with questions and answers on dealing with Institutional Review Boards, what data librarians can or cannot have access to, barriers to student success, and supporting student connectedness as a form of retention support. The ACRL Student Retention Discussion Group can be found in ALA Connect at http://connect.ala.org/node/173037, which includes a retention and libraries bibliography and updates on meetings and other activities.