Inclusively Achieving Student Outcomes

A Case Study in Student Success, Retention & Culture Change 

Higher education institutions often speak of improving retention as a critical long-term strategy. Yet few institutions have the stamina for that kind of work, and even fewer have an interest in funding it. In 2016, the University of Pikeville (UPIKE) had both when they chose to partner with Credo for Moving the Needle.  

As an open access institution, UPIKE felt a deep ethical obligation to improve retention as a service to their students, not just as a boost to their bottom line. After two years of working through MTN’s modules, UPIKE met its goal of increasing retention from 57% to 65%—including a 17% increase in the retention of students of color—by 2018. That retention growth brought in additional revenue of $3.8 million to the university. Five years later, retention continues to climb, reaching 73.04% (fall-to-fall) for the 2023-24 academic year.  

How did UPIKE manage such a swift and sustainable turnaround? Provost Lori WerthWerth points first to UPIKE’s consistent leadership over the past 10+ years.  

Leadership at All Levels

“I went back to look at the MTN modules and who the module leaders were, and only two people who were module leaders have left the university,” says Werth. Everyone else is still working at UPIKE and many were promoted because of their MTN participation. These staff carry forward the relationships they built and continue to apply the lessons they learned through MTN when they must address current challenges.   

Next, Werth highlights the willingness of every employee on campus to understand the urgency of retention and to engage fully in MTN. Crucially, that included faculty who began to experience the effects of retention firsthand when their class sizes shrunk after the first semester.  

The Power of Campus-Led Change 

“Our student affairs and success teams were alarmed because they saw residence halls were more vacant. But [the retention issue] didn’t become real to faculty until they saw so few students in their classes,” Werth says. “Having urgency at every level gave us the power to make change.” 

Finally, Werth appreciates the way MTN encourages campus leaders to approach change alongside their faculty and staff, rather than dictating change from above.

“When you run out in front of people and tell them to keep up, they won’t change. You have to walk at their pace. After seven and a half years (since starting MTN), I believe the transformational changes we’ve made are because we include the campus community.”

Lori Werth, Ph.D. Provost at University of Pikeville

UPIKE continued to make changes well beyond the intensive portion of MTN ended in 2018. Some initiatives had roots in MTN but didn’t blossom for several more years.

A few examples of ongoing success that UPIKE shared following MTN are:    

  • Creating the Office of Family Connections: Understanding the role families play in students’ lives—especially first-generation and Pell-eligible students—UPIKE allocated new resources and established new programs for this constituency. The Office of Family Connections produces a newsletter, hosts summer orientation and first-week-of-school activities, and organizes events around UPIKE away games that engage with students’ families.
  • Transforming General Education Requirements: UPIKE faculty, staff, and administration leaders realized that the high number of gen ed credits (70) required for graduation was a barrier for current students and a deterrent to transfers. They collaborated for 18 months to develop a new gen ed program requiring just 36 credits. On the heels of that success, faculty are leading the charge for a second gen ed transformation to better align required courses with the career paths students wish to pursue.
  • Becoming an Open Access Resources Campus: The COVID-19 pandemic threw a spotlight on how financial struggles impact students and families’ decisions to pursue a college degree. Textbooks and required course materials comprised a big part those costs. UPIKE sought to alleviate some of those expenses by becoming an Open Access Resources campus. They provided faculty with stipends to restructure their courses without textbooks and created a $100,000 fund to purchase any texts or resources deemed indispensable for certain courses.  

Continuing Student Success

As UPIKE continues to grow and evolve, it’s keeping student success and the lessons they’ve learned through MTN at the center of everything they do. That’s not only opened doors for students but also placed the entire institution on firmer financial ground.  

"There will always be a return on investment when you concentrate on retention.” 

Lori Werth, Ph.D. Provost at University of Pikeville

Returning the Investment with MTN

“What does it mean for your bottom line to keep 10 students for three to four years? And what happens if you can scale that up?” Werth asks. “I understand the (financial) challenges we’re all facing, but they’ll continue to be challenging until we prioritize where our revenue is coming from. There will always be a return on investment when you concentrate on retention."

Find out how Moving The Needle's inclusive student success outcomes can transform your campus.


Continue reading about MTN clients' success outcomes.