Improving your Student Retention with Strategic Alignment

Pete Schauer

Marketing Director

Today’s college students have a lot on their plates. Not only are they paying a significant price for a higher education but also many of them are juggling families, careers, and finances. Learning is enough on its own, but more and more students are finding themselves in positions where they must balance everyday life with earning a degree. As a result, colleges and universities are placing more emphasis on student success and completion.

Does Your School Have a Retention Strategy?

In order to improve student outcomes at your higher institution, you must have a comprehensive student retention strategy. However, few schools have this type of strategy. According to this Blackboard blog, less than half of all institutions employ full time staff to help with student retention. Therefore, creating and implementing a strategy is too time consuming and complex for another department to do on its own.

We must keep in mind that a solid retention strategy is more than incentives for students to stay in school. It requires the full support of the campus, and that includes the president of the college all the way down to the financial aid office. When everyone works together in a collaborative fashion to help students achieve their goals, student outcomes are improved.

Collecting and Understanding Data

Colleges and universities are unique, but they face similar challenges. At the moment, a big challenge is getting students to continue their education and complete their goals. This is complicated by the many responsibilities that today’s learners have. However, you can’t generalize on what your students are doing outside of school. You must take the time to gather the appropriate retention data and use it effectively.

Here are some of the most common reasons why students drop out of college.

  • It costs too much

  • Needed to get a full-time job

  • Family issues

  • Too stressful

  • Unsure of their career path

  • Unprepared for the workload

  • Not the right fit

  • Lack of support

By understanding the real issues that your students face, you can develop a strategy to help them. Let’s say that your program has a large number of first-generation students. These students often have a harder time achieving goals because of a lack of support at home. Knowing this, you could offer support programs to fill this gap and introduce students to advisors early on. These advisors would then keep track of student progress and identify potential academic or behavioral problems.

Building a Successful Retention Strategy

Everyone on campus plays a role in student retention. This includes student services, admissions and enrollment departments, academic advising, and financial aid. Remember, the goal is to help students stay in school!

Let’s look closer at the elements that should be included in your strategy.

  • Define student success. What is your university’s vision of success? When you define what success means to you, students can relate to your expectations. Give students reasonable tools and resources to help them such as intervention programs and academic support groups.

  • Intervention programs. Intervention programs identify at-risk students. There are different ways to target these students, but one of the most efficient is by implementing a student referral program. Through this program, students experiencing difficulties receive a letter introducing them to the available services on campus that can help.

  • Increase resources. Academic advising is a powerful tool. Students often don’t know where to turn with a complex workload or financial difficulties. By having knowledgeable advisors that are regularly available, you can reach out to students in time and provide them with the support they need.

  • Develop small goals. Many higher institutions are just beginning to think about student retention. Your goals don't have to be excessive right now. Start by setting small goals, implementing the appropriate changes, and measuring the impact. As you learn what works on a small scale, you can roll these adjustments out to the entire university.

  • Inform students of the best practices. Many incoming freshmen aren’t sure of their expectations, nor are they prepared for the responsibility that comes with college. For new students, take time to provide them with the proper orientation and seminars that are needed until they get on their feet. New students should know where to find campus resources, how to get help for different matters, and what is expected of them.

  • Poll students. Data is very important when developing a student retention strategy. But, you can’t keep using the same data over and over again. Your school is always getting new students, so you must gather new data each year. The best way to do this is by polling students or collecting information using a student management system. Review the feedback and address consistent issues.

  • Build a community. Students will leave a school when they feel isolated from their peers. Prevent this from happening by establishing a community that welcomes all students. A strong network prevents isolation and leads to feelings of cohesiveness. A supportive, caring community also supports healthy study habits and can improve overall academic performance.

It’s amazing to think that it costs five times as much to recruit a new student as it does to retain a current one. Knowing this, it’s worth your while to invest time into a comprehensive student retention strategy that includes everyone on campus. To make this work, you need to collect the appropriate data and have full-time employees dedicated to retention. This way, they can study the data, identify at-risk students, and deliver the support and services students need to stay in school.

 
About the Author: Pete Schauer

Born and raised at the Jersey Shore, Pete Schauer is the Marketing Director at SEMGeeks. He holds a M.A. in Digital Communications from William Paterson University and has 8+ years in the digital space with companies such as Bleacher Report and Social Media Today in addition to SEMGeeks. His background includes creative and professional writing as well as strategic digital marketing communications and management.

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