Timothy S. Vaughan
Midwestern University Works to Improve First-Year Retention
This case presents a factual scenario in which a medium-size Midwest university attempted to improve retention of first year students, by using student retention metrics as one component of an overall “performance score” used to inform the allocation of a portion of discretionary funds across the departments of the university. The case provides an opportunity for students to apply statistical process control techniques and/or statistical significance testing, when viewed with reference to variation in first-year retention across the departments. The problem also provides an opportunity for root cause analysis using the “fishbone diagram” method. Together, these exercises prompt discussion of the extent to which the underlying causes of poor retention are department specific (related to what major a student has declared, or due to factors that could be impacted by department-level activities) as opposed to “general” student issues and as such systemic to the university as a whole. In turn, this prompts broader discussion of when a performance-based reward system is effective in motivating efforts to improve process performance, drawing in components of the Deming management philosophy and in particular the implication of Deming’s “Red Beads” experiment.