Student retention is the key to survival for many colleges and universities, simply attracting students is not enough in today’s fast-paced environment. They need to persist semester after semester until they graduate. Focusing on retention is a win-win. Boosting retention rates is good for the student. They get the credential that helps them achieve their personal and career goals. A record of persistence and retention also boosts the reputation of the program. It all starts with the right support to help students overcome their challenges and work toward their academic and personal goals.
What prevents students from persisting?
Students enroll with high hopes. They want to persist and earn their credential so they can get a higher-paying job, earn a promotion, or change careers. Yet two things often stand in the way: time and money.
Even as the pandemic challenged learners and institutions, it also highlighted the challenges these learners faced. Economic uncertainty, unemployment, childcare issues, and lack of family support are not new. They’ve just become more obvious in the wake of a global crisis.
While you can’t control whether a learner has free time, you can help them find ways to manage their time. You can’t put more money in their pocket, but you can help them understand financial aid and funding sources. And although you can’t make a learner’s family and loved ones support them, you can provide proactive advising and coaching.
All of these factors can help boost student retention rates. Of course, every student is different. Some have the financial resources, time, and personal support they need to persist without much help from you.
For other students, academic advising is really just the bare minimum. Colleges and institutions tend to struggle with retention when they stop there. Services like tutoring, career coaching, academic skills training, and social-emotional support can give at-risk students the tools they need to stay in the program.
Identifying at-risk students at enrollment
Identifying at-risk students before problems arise can help you reach your retention goals. You can start from the first contact with the student:
Look for risk factors like:
- Low prior GPA or failing grades in specific classes
- Multiple attempts at completing a degree
- Length of time since the student was last enrolled in school
- Enrolling in an online program for the first time
The sooner you connect a student with an academic counselor or coach, the better. At the admission phase, students might be deciding between institutions. Forging a connection early can positively impact their decision-making process.
Whether students appear to be at risk or not, admissions advisors can talk to students about how to set themselves up for success. They should find out if students:
- Have a support system
- Understand the time commitment and have time to invest in learning
- Have a study plan in place
- Are prepared for the rigor of the program
If advisors uncover any gaps in the student’s plan, understanding, or support system, they can provide the student with the right resources from the beginning.
Using data to inform support services
One-on-one conversations aren’t the only way to identify and support at-risk students. Colleges and universities also have a wealth of data at their disposal.
Unfortunately, some schools don’t make the connection between data and their retention goals. Others are mired in tradition, sticking to the same old strategies because it’s what they’ve always done. Both approaches miss the insights that student data can bring.
Statics for retention, persistence, yield, and melt are just the beginning. You can also explore student demographics. Look for patterns among those who persist versus those who don’t. Which populations could you do a better job supporting?
Email or text-based surveys can help you understand motivations for enrollment. This can help you tailor support services to student goals. Surveys can also help you gauge student awareness of support programs. A tutoring program that students don’t know about can’t help them. The best way to know whether students have the support they need is to ask them.
Supporting retention after enrollment
Once a student is enrolled, professors and academic coaches can add their insights. They should look for students who:
- Haven’t attended an in-person class or logged into an online class in more than a week.
- Are failing particular classes or assignments.
- Aren’t participating as much as they did in the past.
Opening lines of communication between advisors and faculty can help you catch potential issues early. Since faculty often spend more time with students, they may be better positioned to notice issues. Faculty can alert advisors if something seems out of the ordinary or if the student discloses an issue.
Ideally, students would know about support services before they need them. You can help by mentioning support services early and often. A long list of resources offered during orientation will likely be forgotten before the end of the session. Look for opportunities to mention coaches, tutoring, financial aid resources, and other tools in your student nurturing communication. You can spread the word with emails, texts, or social media posts targeting your students. Coaches and advisors can also point students toward supports to meet their individual needs.
Make sure support services are easy to access as well. If a student has to contact three or four departments to get the support they need, they may become overwhelmed and give up. Give them a single point of contact who can connect them with any resources they need.
Tools to improve student retention
The right technology tools can help. Each advisor can handle a larger caseload more effectively if they have the right technology to customize communication. Data gathering and analysis tools can help you spot patterns. Texting, messaging and even organic social media can help you keep in touch with students.
Your retention goals are in reach if you have the right technology in place. Which is why EducationDynamics has partnered with Nuro Retention. We’re combining their predictive analytics and retention tools with our world-class coaching and enrollment management services to help you improve student retention. Contact an EDDY retention expert today.