Most colleges and universities work in teams to develop strong retention plans to ensure students remain and finish their degrees.  Typically, a retention plan is formed in tandem with a strategic enrollment plan.  Both plans are critical to sustain enrollment numbers and improve the overall success of students, especially for new, first-year college students. 

The majority of new students entering higher education leave their initial college of choice without completing a degree (Tinto, 1993), and national attrition rates have been increasing since the early 1980s at two-year and four-year institutions, both public and private (Postsecondary Education Opportunity, 2002). At all types of higher education institutions, including highly selective colleges and universities, the most critical period or stage of vulnerability for student attrition continues to be the first year of college (“Learning Slope,” 1991). More than half of all students who withdraw from college do so during their first year (Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange, 1999), resulting in a first-year attrition rate of more than 25% at four-year institutions, and approximately 50% at two-year institutions (ACT, 2003).

However, even the most elaborate strategic enrollment or retention plans are only as good as a student’s intrinsic ability to want to persist and complete their college degree.  This means that each student must first have his or her own plan in mind to succeed in college and beyond. 

For students, I have coined this as the “I” PERSIST plan.  Here is what each letter stands for:


 Plan of


 Reminders to




 Through it all!

This type of plan is vital for first-year seminar instructors/professors to share in the classroom with students.  It is sure to not only assist your students to look inwardly at their levels of intrinsic motivation but also present a foundation for meaningful classroom discussion.

Talking to Students about “I” PERSIST

  1. Share with students encouraging reminders or affirmations on a daily basis; they are a powerful tool in maintaining high levels of motivation when working towards a goal.  Provide a level of transparency for your students by writing a few examples on the board of encouraging words that you may use in your own life.  Then, have the students come up with their own encouraging reminders about themselves. Some basic examples are: I am creative. I am kind. I am a leader. I am determined. I am strong.  
  2. Once the students develop their own encouraging words about themselves, have them take it a step further with a list of encouraging reminders, specifically things that will keep them motivated while they are in school. One way to begin the discussion is to first ask the students to think about why they are in college.  Asking this question will prompt students to really think about “why” they are in school before they determine “how” they will remain in school and what will motivate them to keep going.
  1. Developing an “I” PERSIST plan may be a new concept for many students.  Each student will have their own unique list of encouraging reminders and motivators and it may take a bit of time for them to truly “look inwardly” for what resonates for them.  There is no right or wrong list of encouraging reminders and motivators.  It should just be a plan that means something to the student that will help keep them going strong throughout their college journey.

When talking directly to your students about their own motivations and “I” PERSIST plan consider something like this:

“I” PERSIST is one of the main ingredients that will help promote true success for you – from convocation all the way to commencement.  It is what will help you start strong and finish even stronger. Your “I” PERSIST plan is personal, individualized and unique – no one can write it except for you.  Only you know what encourages and motivates you to keep going.  You have in your heart those reminders that resonate only for you.

To start, take a moment and think of all of the positive reminders that will help you propel forward. Think about what motivates you, why you wanted to go to college, and remind yourself that you can and will make it. Write them down on paper.  Put them in your phone as your home screen. Put positive reminders on your refrigerator.  Leave them on sticky notes in your car.  Write them on a whiteboard in your bedroom, so you can repeat them on a daily basis.

When obstacles come your way – think – “I” PERSIST.  When you are the only one left standing, – think – “I” PERSIST.  When you are disappointed – think – “I” PERSIST.  Because it is those moments during obstacles, loneliness, and disappointment that your “I” PERSIST plan works best!

Your “I” PERSIST plan is a powerful tool that you can begin to incorporate in your life immediately as a student.  The question for you is – When obstacles arise, what will be your individual plan of encouraging reminders to stay in school?



ACT (2003, February). “National college dropout and graduation rates, 2002.”                                                                                                          


Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (1999). Executive summary 1998-1999

     CSRDE report: The retention and graduation rates in 269 colleges and universities.

     Norman, OK: Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis, University of


“Learning Slope.” (1991). Policy Perspectives, 4(1), pp. 1A-8A. Pew Higher Education

     Research Program.

Postsecondary Education Opportunity (2002). Institutional graduation rates by control,

     academic selectivity and degree level, 1983-2002. The Environmental Scanning

     Research Letter of Opportunity for Postsecondary Education, (March), pp. 1-16.

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures for student attrition

     (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.