A Pilot Persistence Project

Nursing students sit around nursing instructor at table

Recently, the sentiment has continued to ring true about the nursing shortage or the need of more nurses—we need more Registered Nurses (RNs) to take care of patients at all levels of care. I have been a RN for the past 42 years, and we still have a long way to go in increasing the number of graduating nursing students to become RNs. But first, we must start with increasing the retention and graduation rates of nursing students. We must and can do this by using a Persistence Project.

The purpose of this article is to focus on student belonging by using a Persistence Project to accomplish this goal, and therefore, increase retention rates and success of graduating students from universities.

Why is a university’s retention rate important?

Nursing as an undergraduate degree in the health field is challenging. During the first semester of nursing school, usually the retention rates are the lowest followed by the second and third semesters. After the first semester of nursing school, the retention rates will let you know how many students come back for their second semester. Furthermore, retention rates are important for second and third semester nursing students. A research mission to increase undergraduate nursing students’ success to graduation is the use of a Persistence Project.

How can universities increase retention rates?

Tinto (2016), who is a distinguished university professor and expert on university student retention, listed the following factors to improve retention: self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and perceived value of the curriculum.

According to NECC (2021), universities can also improve retention by:

  • Collect retention data. Universities must collect data on program effectiveness, student achievement, and resource allocation to address low student retention rates. Once collected, data can enhance student retention efforts year after year.  It is important to identify, measure, and track key performance metrics (NECC, 2021). For example, to ensure the success of the nursing students at a Midwest University, the university tracks their progress and identifies students who need help by use of the SupportNET system.
  • Implement an academic success program. Program support must be developed and implemented by targeting high-risk students and directly addressing issues related to academic underperformance (NECC, 2021). For example, are tutoring services needed for nursing students in the first nursing semester?
  • Develop milestones. According to Hale (2018) of Hanover Research, milestones are one of the best ways to encourage students to graduate. Milestones are step-by-step academic goals that help students monitor their progress and understand what they are working toward. Setting measurable milestones is 80 percent effective in increasing retention and helping at-risk students (NECC, 2021).
  • Offer online courses. Online courses are associated with increased retention and graduation rates, they improve access to education for disadvantaged students. Offering digital courses improves student learning outcomes by helping students earn their degree faster (NECC, 2021). For example, the professor is completing IT courses to learn how to convert the NS 489 (face to face) theory course to an online course.
  • Create retention plans for all levels. It is essential to create retention strategies for every step of a student’s journey also schools must establish goals for student retention (NECC, 2021). For example, a Persistence Project.

What is a Persistence Project?

The pilot Persistence Project was started as an ongoing research mission designed to increase nursing student success and persistence at a Midwest University. The pilot study was built on a successful model from other colleges who presented at the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference last year who started a mission to increase students’ sense of belonging and persistence in the face of academic challenges. This pilot project closely aligns with the Academic Master Plan (AMP) and the Midwest University student retention action plan.

Methodology: Beginning in the fall 2021 semester, a nursing professor of third semester nursing students took specific steps designed to build connections with students in the NS 489 Nursing Care of the Elderly, Theory, and Clinical courses. These intentional practices suggested by NECC (2021) were instated:

  • Providing clear, high academic standards as outlined in the course syllabus
  • Learning student names and having them learn one another’s names
  • Holding a 10-15 minute “get to know you” conference with every student
  • Acquainting students with academic centers, the student success hub, and other resources and opportunities at the Midwest University
  • Attending one event with students (a course related conference or workshop)
  • Contact students who were struggling and offer to help, for example, assist in accessing resources, nursing tutoring, etc.

During the “get to know you” intentional practice, the following questions were asked at the Midwest University:

  • I want you to know that you matter to me and have earned the right to be here (at this Midwest University), how can I help you to be successful?
  • What questions do you have about NS/NC 489 courses?

It took approximately seven and a half hours of faculty time to complete this pilot study.

Results:  The above pilot study (completed with 30 students) was designed with intentional practices that showed a positive trend in the retention of the third semester nursing students with a 100% pass rate and progression to the forth or final nursing semester. Therefore, the pilot study results have led to more interest in completing a research Persistence Project. A research study will be initiated in the fall 2022 semester with collaboration between the faculty of the Nursing and Communication Disorders Departments.

Dr. Vera Campbell-Jones, DNP, RN is an assistant professor in the department of nursing at Southeast Missouri State University. She is an experienced nurse educator, author, presenter, and curriculum coordinator of the geriatric theory and clinical courses.


Hale, M. (2018, June 11). Using Academic Milestones and Remediation Indicators to Increase Retention. https://www.hanoverresearch.com/insights-blog/increase-college-student-retention/

NECC (2021). Persistence Project: The Persistence Project. https://facstaff.necc.mass.edu/departments-and-organizations/center-for-professional-development/programs-and-events/teaching-and-learning/persistence

Tinto, P. (2016, September 26). From Retention to Persistence. https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2016/09/26/how-improve-student-persistence-and-completion-essay#.Yxo6LGLUi6I.link