Residence retention tool is getting results

Each fall since 2008, incoming freshmen have been invited to take part in a free, 20-minute online assessment tool called MAP-Works. Although it is funded by the Department of Residence, on- and off-campus first-time, first-year students are encouraged to participate.

The short "Transition Survey" provides students with feedback that targets campus resources to assist in their transition to Iowa State. Strengths, weakness and concerns can be identified and addressed to each individual's needs. Participating faculty and staff (primarily advisers) use the data to provide appropriate transition help, especially for at-risk students.

"Wherever the system raises red flags, it offers resources the students can reach out to on campus," said Ginny Arthur, associate director for residence life who coordinates the program with associate dean of students Mary Jo Gonzales. "It's a very personalized system. That's one of the hallmarks of the program."

Early intervention

"The survey begins the third week of the fall semester," Arthur said. "That is a high-risk time -- when students might be struggling. They need to figure out how to change their behaviors and what resources we have for them."

Data from MAP-Works helps measure the academic success and retention rates of survey participants. Low, moderate and high "risk indicators," based on academic ability measures such as ACT score, high school rank and GPA, are collected for all freshmen. However, survey answers from MAP-Works participants also are factored into the risk equation. These questions have included issues such as financial distress, time management skills, campus involvement and homesickness.

Academic advisers and residence hall directors likely are the first to contact high-risk students. Hall directors also follow up with students who do not participate in the survey, since the numbers show they are more at risk than those who do participate.

The data

Donald Whalen, DOR research analyst, is spearheading the compilation of MAP-Works data. Participation numbers and participant vs. nonparticipant comparisons are among the reports available online.

Last fall, 81.4 percent of first-year freshmen (4,108) completed the survey, including 86 percent of freshmen living on campus. MAP-Works participants posted a higher average GPA (2.8) and spring retention rate (95.9 percent) than nonparticipants (2.45 and 89.7 percent).


Students are offered incentives to participate in the MAP-Works program. Students who complete the survey are eligible for prize drawings, and pizza parties are awarded to residence hall houses with the highest participation rates. Random prize drawings have included parking passes, gift cards, basketball tickets and a free year of room and board.