Student Retention Tips for 2016
Jan 20, 2016
Student retention has come a long way from a simple conversation after class between student and teacher. Non-traditional students, especially online students that never set foot on the campus, can be less engaged and loyal which makes it easier for them to rationalize their decision to move on.
Here are a few ideas that can help your college improve student retention in 2016 and beyond.
Learn from the past. Students have dropped out before so turn that negative into a positive by [a] analyzing the data they left behind and [b] engaging with them in order to gather additional data. The goal here is to figure out why students are leaving – and if it is preventable.
Historical data will help you identify traits and experiences that are common – such as poor grades in high school, and a history of dropping out of other colleges. Additionally, the data you capture during their enrollment with you – late to register for class, high absenteeism, late assignments, etc.
And when you speak with them, ask about their experiences and reasons for leaving – as well as potential for returning. Here is where you uncover what they felt you did well and what you could do better. You will also hear about external factors such as family and work issues, health issues etc.
Data strategy. Know what data you would like to have in order to answer your questions about why the student left and if it could have been prevented. Then figure out how to capture the data so you can create a process and owner. The data captured should come from beyond the classroom – more than attendance, submission of work, grades. If the student interacts with an adviser, or requests a tutor, or seeks help from tech support – you want to get key data that helps you understand their entire experience with your college.
Some have said “Retention is everyone’s business” -well, it is and everyone should have a fast, simple, effective way to share the information of a student encounter for analysis because the student’s decision to stay or go can be influenced by many factors within your institution as well as outside your institution.
Centralized data. This is an offshoot of the above, Data Strategy, because chances are pretty strong that you have some data silos in the institution. You’re search for anything that impacts the students experience at your institution – from attending classes to logging into the LMS and submitting assignments to grades, parking tickets, experiences with the library, career services and more.
Set proper expectations during recruitment – make them realistic. Student retention starts long before enrollment. Retention starts when you first meet and begin working together. For example, the potential student is interested in online courses because of the flexibility. Make sure they understand that ‘flexibility’ doesn’t mean ‘submit work whenever you get around to it’, and that it really means ‘you don’t have to physically be somewhere on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 11 am to 12:30 pm”.
Have an on-boarding process that helps them get settled in. If they are on campus, show them around and help them understand what services exist for what reasons. If they are online, show them around your virtual services and make sure they understand how they can get what they need when they need it. And don’t forget to check back in after a short period of time – this helps reinforce the information and build that personal relationship.
Have a clear definition of at risk, stop out, drop out etc. As you map out your student retention action plan, make sure all the key terms are consistently defined and clearly understood across the institution with faculty, staff and students. Is the only difference between a ‘stop-out’ and a ‘drop-out’ that the later submitted all the necessary paperwork?
Have a clear process of intervention – who does what, when, how and why. Have the right person step up to ensure the student receives the right solution from the right people and then have the single point of contact (see below) involved appropriately. Clearly defined roles, tasks, time lines are key to ensuring the at-risk student gets the attention they need and deserve.
Authority and responsibility. One person needs to be accountable for retention – and they will work with all of the other appropriate people in the organization to understand, develop strategies and tactics, and ensure the plan gets implemented correctly. No clear owner with the authority and responsibility to lead the way means no one is in charge and it’s going to be a mess.
Single point of contact. Over the course of the student’s enrollment, they should have one single point of contact. Why? Because it builds stability into a personal relationship. And that person is responsible for helping the individual navigate the institution from Day 1 to Graduation.
Regular interactions/ communications. Yes, the student is busy thanks to work, home and college but you need to reach out early and often so you can identify problems and guide them through relevant solutions. Notice they turned in an assignment early – congratulate them. Notice they missed an assignment – find out why and then offer solutions. And when you can, sprinkle in some random acts of kindness like a birthday card (preferably on their birthday).
If you have any other tips that failed to make our student retention list, please make sure you leave us a comment with this post that includes your recommendations. And feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions – we’re happy to answer questions whenever we can.
Patrick McGraw is VP of Higher Educaton Marketing Services and has more than 25 years experience in market research, competitive intelligence, business intelligence including database marketing and CRM, strategic planning, brand development and management as well as operations/campaign management. His work has consistently helped his clients and employers develop and implement more efficient ways to attract and retain profitable customers, enter new markets and launch new products. His areas of focus include the education, hospitality, travel and tourism, hi-tech, telecommunications, financial services, and retail industries on both the agency and customer sides.