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Student Retention

Inside Montclair State's First Semester Achievement Student Retention & Success Program

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John Steele

Head of Marketing

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Solutions Used

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Description

Montclair State University, a public research university in Montclair, New Jersey, partnered with Suitable in the fall of 2018 to create a gamified approach to student retention.

Montclair and Suitable now have a mobile-first, app-based program where students complete tasks throughout the course of the semester. Advisors create a customized plan for each student, allowing students to earn achievement badges, get text-based alerts and track their progress day by day, on the path to graduation. Students showcase outside-the-classroom participation and all achievements earned become part of their Experiential Learning Record and Co-Curricular Transcript, which can be added to resumes, uploaded to LinkedIn, and appended to other professional profiles to help students tell their story. 

This program has shown stunning results for Montclair State, including significantly increased GPA, increase in first-year retention rates that correlate with the number of achievements earned with Suitable, and the overall retention of 853 students over baseline, resulting in an immediate ROI of $7.3 million (more details to follow).

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“It’s been really exciting to see all of the synergy and how the experience we’ve had with Suitable in our first year seminar course is now becoming a part of the core of the institution”

David S. Hood: Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of University College

About the School

Montclair State University is the second largest university in the state. Montclair was named the “Best Public University in New Jersey” by Forbes magazine. As of October 2020, the university has over 21,005 total students, both undergraduate and graduate. However, their retention rates for first-year students have been slowly declining throughout the years, leaving the university looking for ways to keep their students progressing towards graduation. 

Challenge before Suitable

Before Montclair teamed up with Suitable, the university saw significant drops in retention rate. For example, first-year retention rate dropped from 86.1% in 2012 to 79.5% just five years later in 2017. Before Suitable, student notifications were sent primarily via email, which has about a 17% open rate across the industry. Students simply ignore emails that they think are spam and most emails are lost to the spam folder. 

After struggling to keep retention numbers up, Montclair set out to improve early intervention and notification practices, scaffold student success through achievements and rewards, and keep students engaged outside the classroom so they keep moving successfully towards graduation. That’s where Suitable stepped in.

Life with Suitable

Montclair administrator research has shown that students spend hours on their smartphones each week, and that the best place for any alert, communication or engagement system is in every student’s pocket.

Suitable uses gamification and alerts as student retention intervention to help identify at-risk students and alert them of their progress while collecting critical data to keep schools in the loop--all while avoiding sending emails for notification, which are often ignored.

Additionally, with Suitable, administration can set up personalized badges for students to earn based on their college or scholarship status to encourage them to get more involved with the university. Suitable’s intentional, gamified methodology allows students to progress through Montclair as they gain points, earn achievements, and can even be featured on the Influencer Leaderboard if they want.

Suitable’s mobile app has allowed Montclair students to begin developing successful habits from their first step on campus.

Additionally, Suitable has allowed Montclair students to keep track of their successes and use these badges as certifications to present to employers and use on resumes, giving them a leg-up when pursuing post-graduation and professional opportunities. With Suitable, every student is given a series of badges, personalized to showcase their initiative and tell their professional story through Experiential Learning Records and Co-Curricular Transcripts. This is an effective way to engage Gen Z students because they value individualism; students want to feel valued for their efforts so gamification encourages student involvement and creates friendly competition among them. 

Take a Look Into Montclair's First Semester Achievement Dashboard

  • Accessible to all first-year students
  • Several personalized experiences and badges for each student
  • Virtual activities and achievements
  • Online portfolios for students to present to employers
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Outcomes Achieved

In July 2020, Montclair administrators Dr. David Hood and Dr. Danielle Insalaco-Egan joined the Pathways 2020 stage to update our Pathways Community on a series of new initiatives designed to focus on Student Retention. One was a re-vamp of their First Year student experience.

After implementing Suitable’s student engagement system to power the re-vamped First Year Experience, Montclair has seen an increased rate in first-year student participation. Completing the "First Semester Achievement" badge is required for the university’s freshman seminar as a part of the final grade for the class. In the fall 2018 semester with 3,000 freshman students, only 656 students didn’t complete any activities. However, only 21 students didn’t complete any badges in the fall semester of 2019. Montclair also created additional badges for their Presidential Scholars to individualize their program further. 

In April 2021, Montclair was back with us for a follow-up, in which they had some very exciting news to share. 

In the three years since it's inception, Montclair State's First-Semester Achievement program had retained an additional 853 students over baseline.

This resulted in immediate ROI totaling $7.3 million. Administrators project this will result in a cumulative ROI of $44.7 million over the next 6 years. 

Perhaps the most exciting takeaway was the direct relationship between first-term retention rate and experiences completed on Suitable. 

Completion of the FSA program was also linked to significantly higher GPAs and a reduction in the course withdrawal rate. For more details on these exciting outcomes, check out our event with Montclair State University today!

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“When you can create experiences you know will engage students–whether or not they have academic, financial or other personal issues–I think there is an opportunity to address those issues before they fall into a point of no return."

Duane Williams: Director, Center for Leadership & Engagement

Plans for the Future

After a successful phase with Suitable badging, Montclair will continue to use these as a part of its seminar courses to better help students engage with the university outside of the classroom. As the university has seen a significant growth in student participation, more freshmen students are now staying active in the university community by completing their badge programs throughout their freshman seminars.