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Student Retention
Student Development

Inside Montclair State University’s Experience Montclair Initiative

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With a large and highly diverse student population, New Jersey’s Montclair State University wanted to improve student participation outside the classroom. Recognizing the importance of competency-based education, they launched their student retention plan, Experience Montclair using Suitable’s platform. They can now serve their students better than before by providing them with an engaging First Year Experience. With Suitable, Montclair State knows what is working and what is not working with Freshmen to improve first-year retention rates.

About the School

New Jersey’s second largest state institution, Montclair State University, serves over 21,000 students. It has a highly diverse student population with HSI designation, as 25% of recruiters are reserved for hispanic undergraduate students. The university is also one of the top 25 LGBTQ campuses, based on U.S. news report and a R2 doctoral university. They developed Experience Montclair as an initiative to increase student participation and improve retention.

Challenge before Suitable

In a time where student engagement is of paramount importance, Montclair State University wanted to clearly define student engagement for themselves and figure out how it can be measured to analyze persistence and retention outcomes overtime. The problem was that MSU lacked adequate tools to do so. As Montclair State was seeking a way to increase student participation in co-curricular programming they understood the importance of having well defined competencies reflecting experiences that all students may be exposed to. Montclair State wanted to bridge the gap between student affairs and academic affairs to create a holistic experience for students.

Life with Suitable

Suitable brings a unique approach that other platforms lack. First, it unites the campus through a common mission and vision. Then, through Suitable’s competency-based approach, the administration, students, and employers align on a set of care competencies. For Experience Montclair, administration saw that a competency based approach was a vessel that allowed them to articulate the value proposition of their student experience. It answers the “Why” for students when they consider engaging or not. On Suitable’s app, students can immediately see which competency they fulfill after they participate in an activity and the progress of their development. This connects the dots between their involvement and the value of participation while also showing them the bigger picture, causing them to engage even more. 

Duane Williams, who works in student affairs at Montclair State, described “inescapable engagement” as the secret to his student success strategy. This basically means that if something is beneficial for a student, make it impossible to avoid without making it required. Montclair State noticed how essential it was for their students to develop soft skills and by using Suitable’s platform they can provide students with a fun and exciting way to get involved. One of the distinct capabilities of Suitable, is the mobile app. Suitable’s mobile experience actively engages the student in Experience Montclair but also allows the administration to integrate it in a variety of ways (i.e. - First Year Seminars). This supports Duane’s approach to “inescapable Engagement”. Suitable’s gamification is what drives predictable completion of co-curricular activities and digital badges. As students participate, they progress through a series of levels, which helps MSU scaffold the student’s engagement overtime. This has made a noticeable difference in their First Year Experience. Now, from the start of the MSU education, students have a fun, interactive road map that helps chart their journey.

With Suitable, MSU administration can now leverage unprecedented data on how their first year students matriculate successfully. As a result, retention and persistence has improved for the first time in five years.

Outcomes Achieved

Once Montclair State partnered with Suitable their participation with first year students soared. 51% of freshmen were engaged with Experience Montclair in just the first semester, with over 20,000 activities logged. The most valuable outcomes were realized with retention and persistence of their first-year students. For the first time in five years, retention improved and now through data analysis with Suitable, MSU understands which experiences led to higher rates of retention, with some showing retention rates 9-13% higher than the baseline. The data analysis also showed a significant decrease in course withdrawal rate.

Plans for the Future

In the future, Montclair State wants to continue breaking down barriers to institutional silos to support an inclusive student experience. By utilizing Suitbale’s data, they plan to refine baseline metrics and predictive benchmarks. This will then enable MSU to improve their intervention and early-alert strategy. Lastly, the administration wants to define what success looks like for a student at Montclair State and encourage those experiences throughout the student’s entire MSU education.