RRIP project puts students first

Sometimes the best way to move forward is by looking back at yourself in the mirror.

The University of Lethbridge is doing just that with the Recruitment and Retention Integrated Planning (RRIP) project. Initiated in the spring, and with the backing of Vice-President (Academic) and Provost Dr. Andy Hakin and Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Nancy Walker, the project's focus is to foster a graduation culture on campus.

"The integrated planning process brings the elements of operations/services, capital planning, financial strategies and policy development together – with a focus on learner success," says Walker.

Simply put, it's a reaffirmation of the University's student-first approach, one of the pillars of President Dr. Mike Mahon's vision for the U of L.

The need for such a project is born out of the fact that there is enhanced competition for post-secondary students in the province, a decline in the student-age demographic, as well as a shift in student expectations. The U of L is also acutely aware of its historically poor student retention rate.

"This project is designed to look at every contact we have with students, from when they are first recruited to when they arrive on campus and then throughout their university career," says Hakin.

Done correctly, it will create an environment that not only attracts students to attend the
U of L, but also supports them through to graduation.

Karen Clearwater, associate vice-president, Financial Planning, is the project manager. The Recruitment and Retention Project Team was created under her guidance and it was formed to represent all areas of campus.

"What we want to do for a student when they enter the U of L is give them the tools they need to be successful here," says Clearwater. "Whether those tools are social or academic, we want to identify whatever they need to be successful through to the day they graduate."

Throughout the spring and summer months, the project team conducted a number of focus groups. The team spoke with everyone from new high school students to continuing students, faculty and staff.

"The number one question we asked them was, "What can we do to make this a successful culture for students?" says project co-ordinator, Heather Mirau, director, Integrated Planning.

What they found, more than anything, was a campus ripe with ideas, and a staff and faculty eager to assist in bringing about change.

"Our faculty, students and staff know what needs to be addressed, and they have been openly sharing with us some excellent ideas," says Mirau. "I've been very encouraged by the excitement that's out there."

Hakin says the whole thrust of the project is a new way of doing business for the U of L. Recruitment and retention cannot be treated as separate and distinct issues, nor can the approaches to dealing with them be handled individually – the entire institution needs to buy into the same delivery.

"If you look at all the effort we traditionally put into getting students into the institution, we then have to ask ourselves what are the factors that keep them here," he says. "If we lose them after one year, two years, that's a lot of wasted effort and money. We need to build a strong student community where all our help services, across the institution, are aligned and optimized."

The data collected from the summer focus groups is in the process of being analyzed, with a priority list of major projects in the works. Establishing project teams is ongoing and the University community is invited to participate. A website has been created ( as a window into the project process. It details the intent of the initiative, how it began, how the team establishes priorities and makes recommendations, and offers a summary of all the focus groups and surveys conducted.

"This is a way to give every employee in the institution the opportunity to act with the same information in their hands," says Mirau. "We also hope the website will serve as a good feedback loop, so that people can continue to contribute to the process."

Clearwater says this is a key institutional initiative in that it has the ability to positively affect the U of L for years to come.

"If this is done right, it could be something that really puts us on the map, not only in terms of retention but also with recruitment," she says. "Students will want to come here because they'll see an institution invested in providing them with the tools for their success."

This story first appeared in the Legend. For a look at the full issue of the December Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.