Student Success


TorchStar actively presents and publish at relevant professional associations. We share insights from our work that can help institutions of higher education understand emerging trends and established best practices. Here we share links and full-texts of some of our most recent presentations and public

Understanding Why Students STAY: Using Student Insights to Improve Retention and Graduation

By Regan Bruni, Director Student Success, West Virginia University, Serena Matsunaga, Principal, TorchStar Education, and Sally McMillan, Principal, TorchStar Education

Presentation at the National Symposium on Student Retention in New Orleans, LA on October 29, 2019. Summarizes STAY study conducted at West Virginia University.

by Sally J. McMillan, Serena Matsunaga, and Jimmy Cheek

With a vision of becoming a top-tier university, the University of Tennessee was able to focus on four key actions and multiple supporting programs and services targeted at improving four-year graduation rates. The improvement in on-time graduation took a village. Improvement in graduation rates did not happen immediately. But change happened. The majority of students at UT now graduate in four-years. 

By Frank Cuevas, Sally McMillan, Serena Matsunaga, and Emily Parker

This case study traces changes made at the University of Tennessee from 2010-2018 and the impact of those changes on student retention. Insights gained form both students and parents helped to drive change

Balancing Access & Success: A Case Study of How Land-Grant Institutions Serve Low and Middle-Income Students

By Sally J. McMillan

Land-grant colleges and universities have a long tradition of serving low- and middle-income students and since 1974 the Pell grant program has also served those students. The research question is as follows: how are land-grant institutions serving low-income students? In-depth interviews were conducted with seven leaders at three intuitions representing different points on a trend line define by graduation rates and percentage of Pell-eligible students. 

by Sally J. McMillan and Serena Matsunaga

This “stayers study” examines what keeps students (particularly low-income students) at school. The primary focus is on students who considered leaving college but decided to stay. Survey and focus group insights give voice to student experiences and also provide institutions of higher education with information about success drivers for college completion.

By Sally J. McMillan and Serena Matsunaga

At many universities, graduation rates for low-income students trail university averages. These students are often invisible because they span race, ethnicity, and gender categories. Students are also reluctant to voice challenges. Available data on these students are typically limited to academic achievement and financial profile, but fail to shed light on the student experience. Conducting a “stayers study” to focus on what keeps students at school – particularly those who considered leaving but decided to stay – was used to identify success drivers and student perceptions of programs.

Please reload