By working in higher education, you have seen drastic changes in the last few years. In 2018, the student dropout rate had soared to 40%. Due to the pandemic and students’ financial pressures, this statistic has continued to climb. Today, students face many internal and external pressures including the complexity of navigating virtual and in-person resources. You want to provide the best possible education to your students, and you can’t do that if they drop out.
Dropping out can have grave consequences on a student’s financial and academic future. It will also impact the school they left. You will not be surprised to learn that when a student drops out, that not only represents a loss in revenue for the year they dropped out, but the future years they would have otherwise been expected to pay tuition. Therefore, student dropout mitigation should be an absolute priority.
Student retention is a widely discussed topic within higher education. This guide will present you with ideas for how you can cultivate positive student/staff relationships, on campus culture, and strategies you can leverage to improve student retention.
Relationships between staff, faculty, and students are integral to student success. Today, administrators and staff have a great deal of technology at their disposal. And while this guide will provide you with some strategies that leverage technology, it must be stressed that while technology is necessary for student retention, it is not sufficient by itself to keep students in school. Schools are, at the end of the day, human institutions. We need connection, communication, and collaboration. Technology can facilitate this, but it is a means to an end, not the end itself.
Studies show that students who feel connected to their school (i.e. the stories, beliefs, and people that create it) are more likely to graduate. To this end, being intentional about building a culture of support can yield dividends in terms of student outcomes. When reading the strategies listed below, question how they can (or can’t) fit into building a culture of success. Higher education exists to transform ordinary students into extraordinary people. Strive for excellence in the way you support your students.
Automated welcome messages or reply prompts featured on your school’s website can be an excellent tool to begin conversations with students.
That being said, automated chat bots can be fantastic tools to streamline communications with students and efficiently guide them through the services your institution offers. For example, a chatbot could appear on a page dedicated to student wellness. This chatbot could then show opportunities for counselling, writing assistance, or degree advising. By showing the student the multiple options available to them in a concise way, the student can more quickly navigate the options at their disposal and be more likely to take advantage of them.
However, as already discussed, implementing technology without due cause is not the best use of your resources. Too many automated messages (including texts and emails) can leave the student feeling more isolated because they have no contact with an actual person.
Chatbots operate well in harmony with administrators who can engage in correspondence with more nuance. By adding a human touch into your automated systems, you intergrate the efficiency of the technology with the human connectivity that comes from a genuine interaction between people.
On-demand video libraries
Many first year students are engaging with higher education for the first time. The academic system that isn’t necessarily intuitive or taught. While a conversation with the student’s academic advisor will certainly help them navigate these systems, accessibility to the administrator may not be quick enough to answer simple questions. Having “How To” pages can help students see that their success matters to the institution.
On-demand video libraries could be made available to students on topics touching on all aspects of the academic experience. Ensuring that these digital libraries are organized and easy to navigate will help students get the answers they need quickly.
Drop-in centers (in person and online)
As we have stressed before, the importance of genuine human connection cannot be overstated. Therefore, maximizing the possibilities for connection is important. By scheduling your administrators to have “open hours” or “drop-in hours” makes it easier for students to engage with their administrators in a more casual way. These interactions can be of extreme value, and illicit mutual understanding that will allow the administrator to better serve the student.
When implementing such a system, or if you already have one in place, you must recognize the necessity of tracking your administrator’s time. By knowing how your administrators are using, or not using, their open hours, you can better schedule their time. With in-person drop-in centers, it is important for your administrators and staff to log their time so you know that it is well spent. With online drop-in centers, this can be done automatically by the software you are using. A resource tracking is integral to determine budgeting and staffing requirements.
Another benefit of online drop-in centres is the ease-of-access for students. Today, most institutions have implemented, or fully converted, to online schooling. And though this has many pros and cons, one of the benefits of online drop-in centers is that it is very easy to lower the barrier to entry for students.
While one-on-one meetings have important personal and social benefits, it is not always the best use of time. Allowing administrators, staff, and faculty to meet in group settings online or in-person is an excellent way to transmit knowledge to a group in much the same way as a classroom lecture can. The added benefits of a workshop are its interactivity and its ability to focus on subjects not directly relating to a student’s academic courses.
Most institutions are already using early alert systems that flag struggling students. These systems allow administrators to proactively intervene when a student’s performance does not meet expectations. By using an early alert system, schools can reduce dropout rates and increase student retention.
Unfortunately, many early alert systems use AI tracking to flag struggling students. This is problematic because an AI is only as good as the programming that created it. Many current AI early alert systems deliver false flags based on a quantitative rather than qualitative whole. Some schools have seen their AI early alert systems singling out minority and poorer students who are performing well in their studies. This not only perpetuates incorrect stereotypes about students, but also wastes school funding and resources.
An early alert system that is based upon human intervention is far more effective. Alerting administrators to patterns that would indicate poor performance allow them to make discerning decisions as to resources should be used to help the student succeed. This reduces time and costs.
Supporting the excellence of your students comes from creating excellent systems of support. Pursue strategies that foster trust in the the institution. Create connection between the student and the resources available to them.
You can, and should, utilize technology to support your students. However, avoid the trap of adopting technology for its own sake. Only add technologies that support your core mission of student success. This can be easier said than done. When comparing yourself to similar institutions you may see tools being used that look enticing, but do not actually fit with your core strategy. Choose your technologies tactfully and create stong visions for your institution that you can rely on to guide your growth.
Retaining students is of enormous importance. The decisions your institution makes will have positive and negative effects will be felt over multiple academic years. This makes it imperative to create strong principles to guide your decisions, as well as aligning with strategic partners that work to support your vision.
We believe that sharing knowledge makes us all stronger. If you have any questions about how to better manage your student services that enable retention, even if it isn’t related to the products we provide, we would be eager to listen and help. To contact one of our industry experts, click “Talk To Us” on the top right of your screen now. If you have any industry insights that you think could improve this article, please let us know!