CWU News

CWU Uses Research, Targeted Support to Improve Student Success

Central Washington University is doing better than ever ensuring students stay in school and progress toward a degree. CWU has increased the percent of students who continue from their freshman to sophomore years—the “retention rate”—by 5 percent in just two years. Now at 78.4 percent,

CWU’s rate surpasses the ACT national average of all four-year colleges, which is 74.4 percent.

Sarah Swager, CWU dean of Student Success, attributes the rise on research into student demographic and academic behavior, which is enhancing university advisors’ interactions.

“Knowing our students better is an important factor,” Swager said, noting the findings of an eight-year, longitudinal study on student retention. “Over the past year in particular, we’ve worked hard to improve our understanding of our students—and why they decided to stay here—and to find ways for the entire university to serve them even better. This retention increase is a testament to the good work that our faculty, staff, and students are doing every single day.”

This increased understanding has helped CWU hone the way it supports students academically, financially, and socially, which is especially critical during a student’s freshman year. That’s when they want to make friends, develop classroom proficiency, and find a level of comfort at their institution.

“It’s intertwined with student needs to be engaged and find value in what they’re doing, and have a social environment in which to thrive, and a financial one where they can focus on achieving their academic goals,” Swager pointed out.

In addition, some students have additional worries, such as being a parent—or single parent—or dealing with health or academic challenges. They’re issues the university must also help address.

“We now know that we need to personalize our interactions with our students in order to develop strategies to help individuals and student groups overcome particular, or similar, obstacles,” Swager acknowledged.

CWU’s retention figure is higher than similar schools nationwide—universities that are also committed to teaching quality and student success.

To help students pay for college, CWU offers more than $40 million in need-based and merit-based grants. The university is also makes it a priority to ensure that financial resources are available when students most need them.

In terms of academics, CWU has increased its academic advising staff to improve student success. Encouraging students to declare a major and become connected to their peers and faculty within a specific academic discipline also have helped keep students on track to graduate.

Swager said increased retention also requires “big picture” planning for maintaining campus facilities, enhancing residence halls, and upgrading campus technology and infrastructure. It even includes the overall upkeep of campus grounds and even the quality and variety of food offered in campus dining facilities.

“We want to make sure that what they receive meets—and exceeds—their expectations,” Swager stated. “As we develop new programs and services, they must be focused on assuring students come to feel as if Central is their home.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of Radio Services and Integrated Communications, 509-963-1487, 

October 29, 2015