Date of Submission


Document Type



Doctor of Education




appreciative advising, ¬change path model, first-year, retention theory, servant leadership.


Higher education institutions have long sought to understand and address the attrition of first-year students. This organizational improvement plan (OIP) addresses the high attrition rates for first-year students at a small university campus located in Eastern Canada. Situated within a multicampus university and in a part of the country experiencing declines in university-aged demographics, the campus faces challenges in both student recruitment and retention. The focus of this paper is on improving retention. This OIP begins by unpacking the political, economic, social, technological, and environmental factors that influence the campus as a way forward in analyzing the poor retention rates of first-year students. This analysis, in combination with publically available institutional data, is used as a point of departure in advancing a change plan to improve retention rates. Grounded in both key retention theory and leadership theory, this study provides a path forward that is led by servant leadership in creating change readiness and mobilizing the campus to improve retention. Through servant leadership guided change—and calling upon both appreciative and distributed leadership in operationalizing change—this work culminates in a comprehensive change plan that suggests faculty-based appreciative advising learning communities is the solution to poor attrition. The final change plan includes action planning, communication plans, and mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the change solution.