Implementing a pivotal talent pool strategy to improve college student retention:
Tack, Eric Justin
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Improving student retention rates is imperative for U.S. colleges and universities; however, despite decades of research, a universal strategy for increasing retention rates remains elusive. The purpose of this study was to determine if a pivotal talent pool strategy (PTPS) helped to improve performance in a centralized academic advising unit at a regional state university, resulting in an increase in student retention rates. The director of advising at the study site led an action research (AR) team, consisting of two academic affairs leadership personnel, in a two-year study engaging five assistant directors of advising and 14 front-line academic advisors as research participants. Academic advisors served as the pivotal talent pool for this study. Two research questions guided this research: (1) How, if at all, does implementing a PTPS affect the performance and short-term impact of a centralized academic advising unit? (2) What is required of a centralized advising unit to create the conditions that support the development and implementation of such a PTPS? Qualitative data were collected using several methods, including benchmarking and semi-structured interviews, meeting notes, email correspondences, researcher journal entries, and organizational documents. Additionally, data were generated by examining term-over-term undergraduate student re-registration rates. The AR team adhered to Coghlan and Brannick’s (2010) traditional AR cycle, comprising four basic steps: constructing, planning action, taking action, and evaluating action. This study consisted of one mega-research cycle focused on improving the performance of the academic advisors, with an embedded sub-cycle focused on the performance of the supervisors of academic advisors. The AR team integrated Ruona’s (2004) consulting to improve the performance process to intervene with academic advisors and their supervisors. The data were analyzed both inductively and deductively using the constant comparative method (Ruona, 2005). The findings showed that using a PTPS (Ruona, 2014, 2017) improved the performance of a pivotal talent position. The results also highlighted factors impacting performance that practitioners must consider when implementing a PTPS. Moreover, the study revealed opportunities to further explore how the PTPS employed by the study site has a long-term impact on improving student retention rates at the university and other institutions.