MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University recently received national recognition for its retention efforts from the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE) at the 14th annual National Symposium on Student Retention held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The University won the national organization’s 2018 Best Practices Award for the paper “Student Engagement and Success: Action and Assessment” by Peggy Whaley, director of student engagement and success; Dr. Cindy Clemson, assistant professor of education and human services; and Jeff Henry, research and instruction librarian. The paper was an evaluation of Murray State’s recent retention efforts through first-year transitions courses.

“Murray State University’s student-centered mission is found in the tireless commitment of our dedicated faculty and staff to support students throughout their college journey,” said Murray State Interim President Bob Jackson. “This national recognition is significant while emphasizing that our approaches to best serve our students are both innovative and formative.”

The new retention model for the University first began in 2013 when several faculty and staff members attended a conference hosted by the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE). During the conference, attendees were encouraged to broaden the scope of their services in an effort to improve retention and student success.

“We know nationwide that only about 50 percent of college students who enroll actually graduate. And that’s just not acceptable,” Clemson said. “I think that’s been one of the things driving us: If we’re going to accept you, it’s part of our responsibility to help you grow. Is that not what universities were established for?”

The faculty and staff members in attendance left with a vision and a plan in place: implementing a collaboration in first-year transitions courses co-taught by student affairs staff and faculty members from students’ academic disciplines. The one-hour credit courses are requirements for all first-year students to help them develop crucial skills, such as strategies for note-taking, studying, managing time and determining academic and career goals. The courses also help students adjust to college life and make connections across campus.

“We know that there are skills we need to teach our first-year students that are critically important for their success,” Whaley said. “We focus on that growth mindset and that ability to persevere through challenges and be better for having gone through those experiences.”

The connections, in particular, also have the benefit of making campus seem less intimidating as first-year students meet faculty and staff from across the University who can help them in their academic and personal journeys.

“This collaboration brings together people that otherwise [students] might not get to know or have connections with,” Henry said, “and those connections are key to keeping students on campus.”

Now, several years later, their efforts are paying off. As of fall 2018, Murray State’s retention rate for overall students seeking bachelor’s or associate degrees is 76.4 percent — an increase of two percentage points from fall 2017. The University’s fall 2018 retention rate is the highest among regional public institutions in the state of Kentucky. 

“We now have years of data showing that the students who participate in these freshman experience classes are retained at a higher percentage,” Clemson said.

Looking ahead, the University has plans to continue the transitions program in the years to come. Each spring the group evaluates the content, talks with instructors and gets feedback from students, Whaley said, as they look to further improve on the transitions model.

“The reason we were given the award is because of our collaboration,” Whaley said. “It’s because of all of us working together for student success and that’s a really great thing to see on campus.”

In addition to the first-year student transitions courses, the Office of Student Engagement and Success supports students as they make a successful transition to college and create connections with variety of resource units.

For more information about Murray State’s retention efforts, contact Whaley at 270-809-2274 or

Peggy Whaley (center), Cindy Clemson (right) and Jeff Henry (left) stand in front of a red and gold curtain.
Murray State University recently received recognition for its retention efforts from the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE) for the paper “Student Engagement and Success: Action and Assessment” by Peggy Whaley (center), Cindy Clemson (right) and Jeff Henry (left).
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