Intra-university partnerships improve student success in a first-year success and retention outreach initiative
La Trobe University faces multiple challenges in responding to attrition and providing a positive student experience among an increasingly diverse first-year cohort. As in many institutions, La Trobe has developed a transition and academic outreach program, Succeed at La Trobe, to support retention, academic preparation and sense of belonging, using an appreciative advising theoretical framework. Although similar programs exist at other universities, these initiatives are often dissociated from day-to-day academic activities and curricula, outsourced to third parties, or focused on specific subjects. Succeed at La Trobe, however, takes an integrated, partnership-based approach, and in 2017 adopted two models of practice which are contrasted here. The established model, of partnerships with individual discipline academics, successfully improved retention rates and student outcomes, with student weighted average marks increased by 3.8 points. In a fully engaged partnership model with first-year Health Science staff and other student-focused areas of the university, a whole-of-student-experience approach was possible, including a more holistic approach to the identification and contact of at-risk students. Deeper engagement and integration with academic business resulted in several benefits, including an increase in contacted students’ weighted average marks of 8.5 points. This paper outlines the collaborative approach taken to develop the intervention and the resulting benefits and implications for practitioners that may apply to other institutions.