Title III Grant – Strengthening Institutions

academic student in classroom


Viterbo University, a private, non-profit institution, is the only independent university in western Wisconsin.  Viterbo serves approximately 2,000 undergraduate students from primarily rural areas in west central Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota.  The University’s mission, tradition, and practices confirm its dedication to provide higher education for traditionally underserved populations.  Forty-four percent of Viterbo students are first-generation and are largely from low or middle-income families; 40% qualify for Federal Pell Grants, 82% receive need-based financial aid, and 100% receive aid from any source.

Project Title:  Pathways to Student Success: An integrated, technology-enhanced approach to improving student retention and graduation rates

Problems:  (1) The graduation rates are below our peer groups and national norms; (2) Viterbo’s freshmen leave the university at a higher rate than the state, regional and national averages for freshmen at four-year colleges; (3) The university loses nearly $1M per year in revenue from the average 89 freshmen not retained; (4) The faculty receive little advisor training and most are unfamiliar with best practices for advising at-risk students or improving student retention; (5) The limited or improper coding systems limit access to retention information; (6) There is insufficient staffing to serve the needs of at-risk student population compared to other schools; and (7) The endowment per total full-time equivalency is low compared to a peer group of Wisconsin Association of Colleges and Universities.

Implementation Strategies:  (1) Establish the Center for Student Success where unified, data-driven interventions improve student success, retention, and graduation rates; (2) Implement a technology-enhanced advising model to support retention and improve productivity; and (3) Implement program-level retention plans and academic integration strategies to increase student engagement, success, retention, and graduation rates.

Measurable Outcomes:  (1) Increase four-year graduation rates for first-time, full-time freshmen by 6%; (2) Increase the fifth semester retention rate by 10%; (3) Increase the fifth semester retention for at-risk students by 10%; (4) Increase the percent of freshmen and sophomores supported by the VU advising model to 80%; (5) Increase the percent of freshmen and transfer students who have an advisor-reviewed graduation plan to 90%; (6) Increase the percent of programs with action plans for retention and integration to 90%; and (7) Increase the percent of freshmen and sophomores engaged in new academic integration strategies to 60%.

Competitive Preference Priority:  This project addresses the Competitive Preference Priority for Supporting Programs, Practices, or Strategies for which there is Moderate Evidence of Effectiveness. 

Studies Cited:
Stephens, N.M., Hamedani, M.G. & Destin, M. (2014).  Closing the Social-Class Achievement Gap: A Difference-Education Intervention Improves First-Generation Students’ Academic Performance and All Students’ College Transition.  Psychological Science 25.4: 943-53.  Web.

Molina, A. & Abelman, R. (2000).  Style Over Substance in Interventions for At-Risk Students: The Impact of Intrusiveness.  NACADA Journal 20.2: 5-15.  Web.

Funds Requested:  $1,999,814