ACT Policy Report – A Guide for Practitioneers

Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention. ACT Policy Report, (September 12, 2007), 1–31.

As a practitioner in the field of higher education I am always excited to find innovative theories or programs in practice that will assist me in my work.  I particularly like to find those articles that provide a theoretical background that parallels some of the work that I am already doing.  While this report is at this time a decade old, the concepts and suggestions for implementation are more prevalent to me now in my career, due to my role, spheres of influence and community of practice that I am a part of.


ACT has put together a policy report that highlights some of the critical issues retaining to retention and academic performance of college students.  The focus of this particular reports focuses on the roles in which both the academic and non-academic attributes of the university experience have on college students.  The report utilized data that came through the use of 109 different studies that met three criteria.  Studies must: examine relationship between academic and non-academic factors, focus on full-time students at four-year institutions, and utilized standard measures while reporting pertinent information.

The report results breakdown the two focus areas of academic and non-academic into defining factors as follows.


  • High school grade point average – HSGPA
  • ACT assessment scores – ACT
  • Socioeconomic status- SES


  • Academic-related skills
  • Achievement motivation
  • Academic self-confidence
  • Academic goals
  • Institutional commitment
  • Social support
  • Contextual influences
  • Social involvement
  • General self-concept

Throughout the report there are varying combinations of the academic and non-academic findings that yield stronger relationships and higher success rates than the others.  What I find important is that there is a strong correlation between the joint program development between academic and non-academic parties to have the greatest chance of creating or improving student retention and success at the university.

Personal Application:

The areas of implementation in which I can utilize this research are in my roles within Orientation and Housing, as well as in the Dean of Students Office.  The researchers propose to start the non-academic areas of achievement motivation and institutional commitment during early start programs.  I see that I have the opportunity to change our practice in orientation of making it more of an opportunity for starting to develop connections and skills for the incoming students, rather than the transaction model that I feel we have now, where students hear some presentations, register for classes and depart until their return in the Fall.

Within the housing area, I would like to see more investment by our hall staff, including student staff, in a mentoring role, emphasizing the social support aspect, during the early start programs. Particularly there would need to be more intentionality from staff to expand their knowledge and relationships with support staff that are here for the summer.  By making the connections with student and support staff we can provide students with an extended period of time getting acclimated and focused on finding academic support.

The final area that I would like to apply the concepts suggested by the article would be within the Residential College Advisory Board that I chair.  We will need to make a focus change from what the original group was formed to do, that of providing program support and a consistency of student expectations across the colleges.  I think this is the area that is most likely to implement something new, using the resources of the faculty, advisors, and student affairs professionals to develop early warning systems, providing more individual attention to students, development of more consistent outreach to students.  This community of practice is one that I have been a part of for 5 years and have developed strong relationships with several of the longstanding members.

Limitations in my practice:

It has been my experience that change comes with resistance, even if there is empirical support to justify said change.  I do not say this to be negative, but as a realist.  The issues can arise when existing programs are producing positive results, but have been at the same level for some time.  Can the results be better?

As I think of implementation with summer programs, I see a struggle in the opposite of my above statement.  There has been no consistency in the early start programs; goals and target demographics have changed year to year, multiple programs have been created from both academic and non-academic areas that are competing for the same students, resulting in some programs not fully functioning because they cannot hit a critical mass to be effective.

Final thoughts:

I will be looking into an update on this report and the test used within the study.  There is an area that I am particularly interested in, the socioeconomic status portion as it relates to the recruitment and success.  I want to see if there have been new discussions about the admitting, or not admitting, students that are pre-identified as having low SES resulting in high need, and the retention rates as it relates to the investment in those students success.

My favorite parts of this report, as a practitioner, are twofold: 1. the inferred practice of collaboration and working inside and outside known work groups. 2. The steps to development provided.  While I will not list them all, I will highlight one that I feel is most important.  “Widely disseminating results from the program evaluation” (Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004, pg21).  From other discussions on communities of practice and roles we play as researchers, sometimes I feel as practitioners we do not share information that can be a benefit to others…just something to consider.


Lotkowski, V. A., Robbins, S. B., & Noeth, R. J. (2004). The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention. ACT Policy Report, (September 12, 2007), 1–31.







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