The campus/district Institutional Research staff are integral to the Awareness Building phase — they can supply data to give you a sense of the successful persistence of 1st-time students. To better understand your 1st-timers, you’ll want to disaggregate the cohort according to variables related to successful persistence and track accordingly.
Another way of raising awareness about the issues of Fall-to-Spring persistence and build momentum for change is to consider past performance as an estimate of future probability (given that no changes are made). Looking at probabilities broken down by student characteristics will give you information to zero in on high-leverage issues. The help of the campus/district Institutional Research staff will be needed to derive Probability of Persisting table.
Focus group discussions with a small group of students who represent those who persist (or, conversely, those who do not — a more difficult group to enlist) can yield great insights about new students — how they view college, their academic history and habits, and expectations of themselves. The sample list of questions can be used as a guide. Here are guidelines for conducting a focus group: http://assessment.aas.duke.edu/documents/How_to_Conduct_a_Focus_Group.pdf
Surveys allow for collecting large amounts of data. Online survey services, like http://www.surveymonkey.com/, allow for e-mail distribution and are terrific timesavers for analyzing and reporting data. The sample survey was designed to identify students’ academic habits. With the assistance of your Institutional Research Office, you can identify 1st-time students to survey. You can also target courses known to enroll a majority of 1st-timers.
Identifying and distributing key articles/literature on the current state of 1st-time Student Persistence can help raise awareness. Holding department meetings or campus forums to discuss the evidence in the literature can build momentum and model an evidence-based approach to finding solutions.