Institution: Houston Baptist University
Location: Houston, Texas
HBU's Opportunity: Increase student retention in a highly diverse environment
Houston Baptist University (HBU) is located in one of the most diverse cities in America, and is rated the sixth most diverse higher education institution in the nation. Students come to HBU with eclectic and varied backgrounds: many socioeconomic and ethnic groups are represented, along with a large commuter population, which creates a perennial retention challenge.
“We really couldn’t seem to get any [retention] traction. I think we lacked something that was comprehensive; a research-based systematic approach that was campus wide.”
- President Robert B. Sloan, Jr., D.d. Theol.
How does a university use research and adaptive practices to create this traction and increase student success and retention?
For Houston Baptist, the traction finally came with Moving the Needle (MTN), a comprehensive assessment, review, and program development project intended to provide an integrated, campus-owned system for supporting student success. Each MTN is built as a best-fit model, expressly customized for your institution.
“The participation of faculty and staff in Moving the Needle on a campus-wide basis has been very strong. It’s also helped us to tell our trustees ‘this is a multi-year emphasis and priority for the university.' They see we are focused, and know we are making changes that will improve HBU and further the mission of the institution,” remarked Dr. Sloan.
Results Across the Campus: Increased retention and breaking down silos
Following implementation of MTN, Houston Baptist is in its third year of first-year full-time student enrollment growth. And, even in a down market in Houston, HBU experienced a 3.9% increase with first-year students from fall to fall.
Jody Hinze, Dean of the Smith College of Liberal Arts said, “I love researching. I love writing. I absolutely love teaching, but I just didn’t know anything about student life. I didn’t know anything about admissions. I didn’t know how the finance office operated. The vocabulary and the categories that I now understand changed the way I view university life from my classroom to hiring faculty.”
Academic integration was a critical module of the MTN process at HBU, and it had multiple facets. Jody Hinze told us, “Academic integration has affected students in a very real way, and we haven’t experienced all of it yet. The faculty and staff are all learning what it means to create a university experience, and how we can take the first-generation college students to the next level, and how we can care for and steward not only the person but finances.”
Hinze recalls faculty members not only meeting other faculty members, but staff from student life, admissions, the finance side, and more. He believes partnerships improved in number and degree, and he stressed the importance of breaking down silos.
On the other side, having academics provide input to student life is also important. Faculty members helped student life understand what goes on in the classroom, what expectations are there for first-generation college students, and how not to lower standards, but still pull the students to where they need to be.
Advising is everything for students
A significant learning on the academic side came from listening to other campus partners talk about advising. For faculty and professors, advising means something very particular, and now they know it is understood by HBU students in a very different way.
“From a student’s perspective, when they come on campus, they see everything as advising. They may not label it that way, but it includes the very first day when they have their first contact at HBU, up to the first session of advising with a faculty member, and more,” said Hinze.
Reframe first day settlement as a customer service opportunity
More operation-centered aspects of the student experience were addressed by MTN through the Project Day 1 module. Student life partnered with the cashier’s office, financial aid, enrollment management, and admissions to provide a comfortable first day settlement experience that gives students all the information they need to complete the business of being a student, well before they ever step foot into a classroom. That way, they successfully hit the ground running, and focus on learning and engaging with the HBU community in other ways.
President Sloan said, “First day settlement was not pleasant for anybody. Through MTN, we learned as an institution that it is not only good for you and your bottom line; it’s also good for students and families. There’s a way to do it, but you need the right processes in place to counsel people.”
Explore spiritual integration
While HBU is a Christian institution, a number of other world religions are represented within the student body, adding to the institution’s diversity. Credo and the MTN process brought focus to being more intentional about weaving faith into the HBU student experience in ways that are relevant to a broad spectrum of students. They believe faith is a central theme of whom they are and why they exist at HBU, and want to support spiritual integration for all students, faculty, and staff.
“Credo’s Moving the Needle project helped us consider why faith really matters to nursing, or living in a residence hall, or on the intramural field, and what faith really means for the student experience as a whole.”
- Whit Goodwin, Vice President for Student Life
Build a strong first year experience
A highlight of MTN was improving the first-year experience, particularly the freshman year seminar. HBU moved from a one-hour class to a three-hour class, and the course work combined with student life learning outcomes.
Jody Hinze said, “We had multiple stakeholders from all over the campus speaking into what this class should be like. We not only on paper have a good product, but in the classroom after two years, we have seen great improvement.”
HBU now has an exceptional freshman seminar. Elements of the seminar also went into the first-year experience as a whole. In addition, academic life, student life, and enrollment management collaborated to more effectively and efficiently communicate with students.
Change the culture of student success
There is now a pride and respect across the HBU campus about working together on retention and student success.
What Goodwin and others value about Credo and the MTN process is that it considers the whole student experience. It doesn’t just focus on learning in the classroom or living in the residence hall or understanding your faith journey or paying a bill or talking with your advisor. It looks at all of those, and more, and then partners with your instiution to put them together. Further, each aspect of the HBU experience is a learning experience and a place where students should be served to the utmost ability of the institution.
Goodwin also said that MTN has changed the programming students have in the residence hall, and how HBU engages them spiritually, socially, and academically. It’s changed what their first-year experience is like, not only when they arrive on campus and are sitting inside the classroom, but also when they first become a student at HBU in the spring, when they come to summer orientation, when they begin school in the fall, and when they complete their first year.
Partner with Credo and find your path to results with student retention
Whit Goodwin recalls a humbling to the Credo process. He said Credo had a genuine interest in helping HBU understand who they are, realize what they do well, and think of ways to build on that, for the success of HBU as a whole, but especially for HBU students.
Are you ready to move the retention needle on your campus?
Contact us to learn more about how Credo can set your campus up for retention and student success, and download our latest retention publication.