Report: Co-curricular activities at Purdue boost student retention, success

December 6, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Activities outside the classroom improve student retention and academic performance, according to a report by the Office for Vice President of Student Affairs at Purdue University.

The report, which examines data from six academic semesters from fall 2008 through spring 2011, finds 51.8 percent of "highly engaged" Purdue students earned 15 or more credits and a 3.0 or higher semester GPA. Among all students at Purdue, 36.8 percent earn 15 or more credits and a 3.0 or higher GPA. An additional 32.3 percent of the "engaged" students either earned 15 or more credits or achieved at least a 3.0 GPA, the report says. Only 16 percent fail to accomplish either.

The "highly engaged" students are from five co-curricular programs at Purdue: aerospace studies / Air Force ROTC, military science / Army ROTC, bands and orchestras, naval science / Navy ROTC and Purdue Musical Organizations. These organizations, the report says, all require out-of-class time from students, sometimes taking up to 20 hours a week for part or all of an academic year.

"Students often have the misconception that they can't be involved in activities because it slows their academic progress and prevents them from getting a degree or getting a degree on time," says Lee Gordon, assistant vice president for student affairs. "We had done some preliminary research showing this was not true, but we wanted to do more intense research to prove not only that it's not true but that the opposite is true. This report bears that out.

"We think students in other organizations, particularly the student leaders, also do well academically."

Other findings from the report include:

* Engaged students perform better even when controlling for other academic factors such as  SAT scores and academic major.

* Engaged students' average GPA exceeds the average GPA for all students at every SAT level.

* Engaged students' average GPA exceeds the average GPA for all students in every undergraduate grade classification and most colleges.

Why are engaged students more successful?

"Students engaged in group activities find and develop time management skills and take care of their schedule because they have to in order to get everything done," Gordon says. "They then find it's a way of life. They become quality time management leaders, and this serves them well after they leave Purdue."

Andy Zehner, an assessment and data analyst who wrote the report, offers an additional reason.

"It's also due to motivation, and a good example of that is the Air Force ROTC program," says Zehner of the Purdue unit that in 2010 was recognized as the top officer-training program among those at 144 universities in the country. "The cadets' future is determined by Lt. Col. Thomas Frooninckx. The Air Force goes by what he says. While some students wonder why they're in a class or question its value, nobody in Air Force ROTC questions. They know why. They're highly motivated and know the colonel is watching. "

Zehner also refutes those who question the difficulty of active students' classes.

"This research shows active students are taking classes of all degrees of difficulty," he says. "For example, the percentage of PMO members in the College of Science and First-Year Engineering is higher than all of Purdue."

Gordon is confident of the report's findings.

"This research is a strong model for testing student involvement," he says. "It controls for the pre-academic skills of students involved. Students come in and progress and when they're done, you look at the outcomes. This shows what students do in programs that are open programs that take a cross-section of students."

The study contains 7,392 records for engaged students and 182,666 records for all Purdue students.

The report can be downloaded by going to
Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711,

Sources: Lee Gordon, 765-494-0246,

                  Andy Zehner, 765-494-6743,