Every year, a large number of students around the country drop out of college before completing their degrees. In fact, roughly a quarter of students who started college in the autumn of 2017 at four-year public colleges did not return for a second year.
While the retention percentage for full-time students increased to 79.1%, the retention rate for part-time students dropped dramatically to practically half. Beginning in 2020, these figures have gotten worse in the aftermath of the epidemic.
When creating standards and targets, it is critical that each institution look more closely at comparators within their peer group. In a post-pandemic academic context, it’s also critical to employ best practices and sound techniques to promote student retention.
With university enrollment rates down at all-time lows, higher education institutes will be required to invest in more than just the status quo to help retain the students they have to ensure they get to graduation successfully. In this guide, we’ll explore some best practices that universities and the advisors within can use to improve college student retention.
College Student Retention Best Practices
These best practices are applicable to most universities and higher education institutions.
Make it a top priority and put money into it.
Improving student retention requires investing in data collecting and analytics, digital advising management systems, and manpower. When correctly implemented, technology-enabled programs not only assist students in achieving academic achievement but also produce significant benefits.
When feasible, collect data on student retention.
Some colleges have formed student success groups to develop, assess, and track critical performance indicators on a regular basis. The data is then distributed to all members of the leadership team so that they are aware of how their respective areas are performing.
Make a measurable goal and keep track of it.
Faculty, staff, and students should all set goals and track critical indicators relating to program efficacy, student accomplishment and conduct, and resource allocation. These should be based on data, easily observable, and evaluated on a regular basis.
Consider the basics of what your academic advisors and teachers should know and do to make students’ experiences better.
Consider the following pieces of information when providing academic advisement or course lessons to your students:
● Learn each student’s name as quickly as possible and utilize their name in class.
● Ask one student to stay for a minute at the end of each class or academic meeting to converse.
● At some time during the semester, visit with each student individually in person.
● Provide feedback early in the semester and meet with each student individually in person at least once during the semester.
● Instead of doing quizzes, examinations, or assignments in class, have students pick them up from your office. This gives you the opportunity to talk to pupils one-on-one and informally.
● If a student is absent from class, make contact with them.
● Request input from your pupils on a regular basis.
● Early and frequent feedback is essential.
● Attend extracurricular activities and programs with your students.
● Share interesting websites and lend some of your books and resources. Inquire about their suggestions.
● Please provide your phone number, email address, and business hours.
● To assist pupils to get to know one another, pair them during the first class meeting and switch every five minutes.
● Provide respectful responses to all queries and whenever possible, positive praise.
● Rather than dismissing student ideas outright, add to them.
● If a student confides in you, appreciate that trust and refrain from passing value judgments.
● Take part in faculty counseling.
● Create learning settings that are welcoming to everybody.
● Maintain your attendance.
● Learn about campus resources for extracurricular activities as well as referrals.
● Recognize and applaud student accomplishments.
● Maintain strong and clear expectations.
● Incorporate technology into student communication. Establish guidelines for communicating with academics via email. Establish social media involvement guidelines for the class.
● Make a space for student projects to be shown. Family and friends are welcome to attend.
● Encourage returning students to register for the upcoming semester as soon as possible.
Take a proactive stance rather than a reactive stance.
Encouraging pupils to focus on their strengths, according to multiple studies, allows them to study more efficiently. This has a favorable impact on retention rates. As a result, adding proactive, strengths-based programming into residential living, academic advising, and student groups is likely to promote student retention.
Make milestones for yourself.
According to research, one of the most effective strategies to push students to graduate is to set milestones. Milestones are a set of academic goals that students can use to track their progress and comprehend what they’re aiming towards. Setting quantifiable goals is a powerful tool for enhancing retention and assisting at-risk pupils.
Earning one year of college credits, finishing the general education curriculum, transferring from a community college to a four-year university, or completing needed remediation are examples of quantifiable goals or milestones that can be set and monitored.
Think beyond the notion of grades and courses.
Student retention in higher education is influenced by a variety of factors, many of which are founded on individuals’ personal experiences. This includes students who are not in the classroom. Providing opportunities for students to form a sense of community, for example, can improve their chances of graduating.
As much as possible, provide online classes.
Increased retention, student success management, and graduation rates have been linked to online courses. They provide cost discounts to financially disadvantaged students. Offering digital courses, according to some studies, enhances student learning outcomes by allowing students to complete their degrees faster and return to work sooner. Furthermore, online classes provide disadvantaged students with easier access to education. The idea is to take a strategic approach to digital learning by customizing an online portfolio to your student population’s specific demands.
Encourage students to develop positive habits.
Incentivization to encourage students to make positive lifestyle choices can be an effective retention approach. Students who obtained a free gym membership for a semester, for example, went to the gym more frequently, according to a study done by the Research Institute of Industrial Economics. Their academic achievement increased as well.
Make it a cross-departmental initiative.
Administrators must form diverse teams when addressing how to boost student retention. Teams should be made up of people who interact with kids on a regular basis. Data analysts, communications specialists, and researchers/professors with expertise in disciplines such as economics and psychology, for example. This enables buy-in for scalable strategic retention initiatives across the entire institution.
Build long-term student engagement by starting early and engaging often.
With the changing face of higher education, many institutions are refocusing their efforts on retention rather than recruitment and admittance. In order to provide continuity in students’ transfer to college, several schools have made recruitment and retention part of the same position.
Create a long-term student retention strategy.
Although the majority of students who drop out of college do so in their first year, 10% drop out after completing 90% of their courses, and 1 in 5 drop out after completing 75%. Most universities place a strong emphasis on maintaining first-year students while overlooking those who are nearing graduation. Prioritizing retention throughout all years can have a major impact on outcomes.
Take an approach to student retention that involves data.
Data analytics are a prerequisite, according to the CEOs of the top three national higher education associations, in order to make proper strategic retention-related decisions. Institutions must understand what is happening in real-time in order to establish an ongoing plan, and professors and staff can get ahead of possible challenges by using predictive analytics. Even the most difficult parts of student retention can be solved with the correct technology platform.
Improve student happiness in a systematic way.
Once important hurdles have been identified, one of the most effective retention techniques for students is to provide meaningful chances for them to make healthy choices in the context of their community.
To summarize, student retention is a critical issue; institutions that spend strategically in both money and effort can reap major benefits.