Hardwiring Student Success

Building Disciplines for Retention and Timely Graduation

Retention Management Office


Comprising a director and one or more staff, the Retention Management Office oversees the university’s network of early warning systems and serves as the designated point of contact for most retention-related issues on campus. A small staff of counselors works with at-risk students identified via early warning systems or on a walk-in basis. The retention director acts as the appointed spokesperson for retention issues with the faculty, parents, and administration and serves as the retention advocate to the senior administration. The office is adequately staffed and has the resources to distribute small emergency scholarships to students in financial peril. Such offices typically report up through academic affairs, enrollment management, or student affairs.

Recommended For: All colleges and universities (especially private institutions)

Council Assessment of Effectiveness

Student retention is frequently lamented as “belonging to no one and everyone.” To create true ownership and accountability, many universities have appointed an administrator responsible for managing the school’s retention enterprise. These positions vary considerably in authority, seniority, and placement within the university organizational structure; however, the typical university actually dedicates less than one-third of an FTE to this role. 

Many schools could significantly infl ect retention performance by appointing a full-time retention director, complete with budget and staff, to manage the university’s on-the-ground retention operations. While this represents a significant resource commitment, the Council feels that the benefits of centralizing early warning systems, creating ownership transparency, and providing at-risk students with an unambiguous destination to receive face-to-face support far outweigh the costs. 

This practice fits well with the high-touch culture of most private institutions. Public institutions with larger enrollments might consider using the retention office as an authority to oversee intervention efforts occurring at the advising offices in the individual colleges.

Implementation Tips

The Council estimates that the retention management offices should be staffed at a ratio of roughly one FTE per 400 first-year students. Key attributes for a retention director include a passion for the wellbeing of undergraduates and the interpersonal skills for working with deans and faculty to secure their participation in academic early warning measures. Ideal staff members have backgrounds in counseling and may be hired inexpensively on a part-time basis from the graduate student population. 

Practice 1 Retention Management Office

Rising Expectations in an Era of Receding Resources

Retention Policy Committee