New report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz identifies barriers to success for college freshmen

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2018 National Freshman Motivation to Complete College Report details results from a study of 93,000 college freshmen

Freshmen want to finish college. So why don’t more of them graduate?

A new study from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, the leading provider of higher education enrollment, student success, and fundraising services, looks beyond standardized test scores and high school transcripts to explore a wider range of factors that influence completion. This study analyzes nationwide data from 93,000 college freshmen to examine their motivations, attitudes, preparations, family, and financial factors that could impact their ability to succeed and graduate.

Key findings include:

  • Nearly 70 percent of incoming college freshmen want help with exams and study skills; half want help improving math and writing skills.
  • Nearly 30 percent of freshmen and 40 percent of first-generation students say they have financial troubles that are distracting.
  • Two-thirds want to talk with someone about career qualifications, while more than 50 percent want help selecting an occupation suited to their interests.
  • Sizeable numbers of students who request help at the beginning of the year report that they did not receive assistance in the areas they requested by mid-year.

“This study shows that today’s college freshmen are both eager and challenged,” said Mari Normyle, assistant vice president for retention solutions at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. “Nearly 100 percent of freshmen say they are committed to receiving a degree no matter what. Yet as they report here, many have critical needs for assistance that need to be met early, before the student decides to leave.”

The report covers complete responses on more than 80 items related to student attitudes, preparation, finances, and many other critical areas that can influence student success and institutional outcomes. These data provide many campuses with actionable insights for student success planning in addition to prioritizing individual student interventions. The 2018 report also breaks down the findings by first-generation status and ethnicity to help campuses see how they need to adapt their strategies to reach different student populations who have changing needs and expectations.

Normyle also notes that the findings have implications for college student recruitment as well. “With the growing emphasis on ‘fit’ and value of an education, understanding the motivations and mindset of incoming freshmen provides enrollment managers with valuable information to support their efforts in recruiting students with graduation in mind.”

For a copy of the report, visit

About Ruffalo Noel Levitz

Ruffalo Noel Levitz is the leading provider of higher education enrollment, student success, and fundraising solutions. The firm serves more than 1,900 colleges and universities through data-driven solutions focused on the entire lifecycle of enrollment and fundraising, assuring students find the right program, graduate on time, secure their first job in their chosen field, and give back to support the next generation. With a deep knowledge of the industry, Ruffalo Noel Levitz provides institutions the ability to scale their efforts by tapping into a community of support and resources. Visit to learn more.

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Caryn Stein
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