How Can You Move The Needle on Student Success & Retention?
Students enrolling for the first time or transferring to a new institution have a wealth of options to choose from on their higher education journeys. They begin building their commitment to the campus very early and start measuring experiences against their expectations and the perceived promises of the institution. For the greatest chance of success, students need to quickly find a sense of belonging, develop meaningful relationships with faculty and peers, and easily navigate the processes of becoming a student.
If a student encounters challenges when trying to access basic services or finds that their pre-enrollment expectations haven’t been met, they often decide to leave. This is a significant problem for colleges and universities, and the traditional way of solving it has been to focus narrowly on statistics—retention, persistence, and matriculation, among others. But those numbers only tell part of the story. To reverse these trends, campuses need to understand how students themselves define success, how that definition can vary among student groups, and how each program on campus has a part to play in the student experience. It’s a deep dive into these questions that forms the core of Moving the Needle (MTN).
What is Moving the Needle?
Moving the Needle is the only campus-consultant partnership in the country that works to fundamentally reorient a campus culture around the success of its students, both in strategy and in lived practice. Delivered in a multi-year, single or cohort format, Moving the Needle focuses on the whole experience a college or university provides to students and how current programs can thrive on their own and in conjunction with other departments to provide a seamless, high impact, and memorable experience for students.
“The most powerful aspect of Moving the Needle with Credo is the genuine partnership,” says Dr. Stan Wearden, President of Methodist University. A Moving the Needle partner since 2020, Methodist is experiencing a 4.3% increase in retention rate year-over-year. “It builds a sense of trust on campus. They’re not a consultant group we brought in. They’re a genuine partner. They’re in this with us.”
Is Your Campus Ready for Moving the Needle?
Although metrics alone can’t diagnose the systemic challenges a campus faces, they can be helpful in determining an institution’s readiness for the transformation of Moving the Needle. Indicators like finances, retention, demographics, graduation rates, and staff turnover within the institution can identify urgent areas of student success concerns or cultural obstacles that Moving the Needle can help address. But those metrics don’t have to be trending down for Moving the Needle to be a useful endeavor for a college or university. Many participating institutions have chosen to join Moving the Needle after seeing those data points hold steady for years because they want to take a step forward or guard against a backward slide.
To be successful, Moving the Needle requires courageous leadership. Presidents and cabinets need to be ready to take an honest look at where their campus stands presently – what it’s doing well and where it may be falling short.
Here are questions to ask to determine whether your campus is ready for Moving the Needle:
- To what degree is our senior leadership team committed to the next level of improving success for all students?
- Is our strategic plan clearly defining goals to improve student learning and success?
- Are our campus middle talent leaders ready to become champions for student success? Would they benefit from professional development?
- Are our "Cylinders of Excellence" (silos) slowing down our ability to move to the next level of student success?
- How ready are we to ensure that all students have appropriate opportunities for success on our campus?
What Differentiates Moving the Needle from Other Programs?
Credo brings a unique approach to defining student success and engages the entire campus—not only the highest levels of leadership—in the Moving the Needle partnership.
Alongside institutional data, a variety of instruments are used to assess how students experience community, their sense of wellbeing, and how engaged they are with the campus. It’s a holistic view of student success that goes well beyond retention numbers and is built into the Moving the Needle process.
Unlike many consulting programs, Moving the Needle is a long-term commitment and partnership with Credo. Our core team and affiliate consultants do not conduct an assessment, provide a report to the president and cabinet, then leave. Buy-in from the cabinet is important, but not more important than the engagement of the staff across campus who have direct involvement in student-facing services like academic advising, residence life, and many other areas. That kind of information gathering and relationship building takes time—time that Moving the Needle affords.
“The Credo Lens – looking at data, looking at the student experience, looking at all the factors that were contributing to our retention challenges – really made a significant difference. And we could not have done it on our own,” says Ruth Rodgers, Vice President for Student Success at Marian University. “We wouldn’t have done it without the focus and discipline of the Moving the Needle project and our Credo partners who supported us as we created a framework and a pathway for student success.”