photo of people at a confernce table

Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Kimberly Blea, left, Highlands’ interim dean of students, Thomasinia Ortiz-Gallegos, Santa Fe Center director, and Carol Litherland, a sign language faculty member, discuss data at the university’s Retention Summit Nov. 3. The data analysis exercise identified populations of students to target with specific retention strategies. The Office of Strategic Enrollment Management sponsored the summit Nov. 3 – 4.

Las Vegas, N.M. – A Retention Summit at Highlands University Nov. 3 – 4 launched a campus wide effort to identify new strategies to enhance the university’s existing retention plan and increase the number of students returning each semester.

The university’s Office of Strategic Enrollment Management sponsored the summit.

“The overall purpose for this summit is to have an inclusive voice of the Highlands University community to identify the most important retention goals, strategies and activities to increase student retention,” said Edward Martínez, vice president for strategic enrollment management. “We achieved our goal of a good cross section of participants from the faculty, staff and administration from our both main campus and centers.”

Martínez said the Retention Summit was data driven and highly interactive, with a focus on consensus building.

“Highlands administered surveys to our students in 2016 in partnership with Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a leading global firm specializing in optimizing retention and enrollment management,” Martínez said.

He said two tools used were the Student Retention Predictor (SRP) model and the College Student Inventory (CSI) survey that collects data on a wide variety of student variables like high school GPA, financial aid, study habits, sociability, receptivity to academic assistance, and ethnicity.

Another survey administered to Highlands’ students is the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI). Focus groups called voices of students were also used to gauge students’ opinions.

“We’re using the data from our students generated by these tools to help drive decisions for retention goals and initiatives. For instance, the Office of Academic Support is already using some of this data to tailor advising for first-time freshmen,” said Martínez, who is also a natural resources management professor at Highlands.

Dave Trites, a senior associate consultant with Ruffalo Noel Levitz, said the voices of Highlands’ students are well represented in the data collection process, which is key to retention improvement.

Trites facilitated the Retention Summit.

“First and foremost, institutions that are serious about student success have an office like Highlands does for strategic enrollment management that has responsibility for student retention,” said Trites, who has 25 years of experience as a higher education retention and student success consultant.

Trites said there are a number of Highlands University retention efforts in place that stand out as best practices.

“For example, the freshmen learning communities at Highlands are a key piece of student support and retention. The ARMAS Center does an excellent job of supporting and building relationships with students that foster success, especially with first-generation students. The early alert system used to identify at-risk students is another example of a best practice for retention. Initiatives like Highlands’ Center for Teaching Excellence that support learning experiences and increase student engagement in the learning process improve learning outcomes. The required orientation for new freshman is another best practice that is particularly well done,” Trites said.

Martínez said an important goal of the Retention Summit is to develop additional campus wide retention goals and strategies to implement that would bolster the existing retention plan to help advance the Higher Learning Commission’s core component of retention, persistence and completion.

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) is Highlands University’s accreditor. On Aug. 31, 2016, the HLC placed Highlands on probation, noting areas such as retention that needed improvement. Highlands is still accredited with the the Higher Learning Commission while the university works to address the concerns the HLC identified.

Highlands English professor Brandon Kempner is directing the university’s HLC accreditation. Highlands’ President Sam Minner and Kempner are co-chairing the steering committee to resolve all of the HLC concerns.

“The Retention Summit is an outstanding opportunity to showcase our university’s commitment to student success,” said Kempner, who also chairs the Faculty Senate.  “Addressing the HLC’s areas of concerns, such as retention, will make Highlands a stronger university for our students and the community.”

Some other topics from the Retention Summit workshops include:

-Facilitated discussions on opportunities to enhance retention of targeted populations.

-Reviews of national best practices research for retention.

-Discussions to identify new retention strategies and develop action plans for implementing these strategies.

-Presentations of successful retention practices at Highlands.

Martínez said he is thankful for the Retention Summit participants’ commitment to the success of Highlands’ students.

An accreditation FAQs page for Highlands is online at In addition, a new  accreditation website is online at

The accreditation website will be updated on a regular basis. It will answer questions, track Highlands’ progress in the probation areas, and archive the evidence the university needs to present to the HLC. The accreditation website will also include dates for ongoing campus forums about accreditation.

The Higher Learning Commission accredits approximately 1,000 colleges and universities that have a home base in one of the 19 states that stretch from Virginia to Arizona. The HLC is a private nonprofit regional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.