With higher education dropout rates in the US at alarming levels, colleges and universities are pressed to improve student retention. Yet, this is easier said than done.
Enjoying low dropout rates is a considerable challenge. Many factors influence the students’ decision to leave their studies, some may be outside the institutional reach. Still, colleges have options to improve the experience and get better results.
This article will explore how to improve student retention in 2023.
Customize Student Services Based on Academic Results
Offering a standardized student experience to everyone is not a valid solution to this problem. So it is important that we take on the challenge to provide customized student services that help everyone according to their needs.
This challenge has two components. First, we have the obvious one: students who are facing difficulties in their learning process. These students may be facing slumps and experiencing academic performance deficits. Advising is key to helping students in this scenario.
To discover who is requiring what, colleges are using automated systems to trigger performance alerts. This helps the staff quickly identify students who don’t only are achieving deficient grades but also, for example, missing classes. Timely alerts of this nature allow colleges to provide support services to students.
A powerful solution: An automated digital solution like Edular, which alerts the staff about students requiring attention while providing the channels to connect in real time. Learn more here.
Students facing academic deficiencies are more likely to drop out of college. Therefore, it is critical to serving them before further consequences appear.
The other component is talented students who are doing great, academically speaking. For obvious reasons, the staff frequently don’t invest resources to support the successful student with advising and other services.
For most advisors, it is difficult to see the need and justify dedicating efforts to a student who is already excelling in class. However, when it comes to successful student retention, we must provide support to every single individual. It is highly likely that this student desires the attention but is unwilling to ask.
For the sake of retention, student services must comprehend overarching attention to the whole student body. Digital tools like Edular ease this process while allowing a high grade of customization.
Tailor the Experience with Unique Student Data
Customizing the student’s experience should not be limited to academic performance. While this provides great opportunities for engagement and retention, there are more criteria to be used for the sake of improvement.
With the right tool in place, your college can tailor services based on personality traits, demographics, degree level, and family history.
On-app personality quizzes, for example, can give institutions a more precise picture of what the student wants and needs. By relying on available technology to do this, collecting and processing data is not a problem: it is done by software.
Basic demographic data can also help institutions to understand their students and their potential socioeconomic challenges. Then degree level and (academic) family history add another layer of rich insights to customize student advising services. For example, it is not the same thing at all to successfully support an undergraduate as it is to help a Ph.D. candidate.
Support the Student From the Pre-Enrollment Stage
A supportive relationship with the student must be established from day one. Colleges cannot afford to wait until help is explicitly requested. Instead, explain to the new students about available communication channels and services.
The stress of enrolling and starting a new career is high for the student. So guidance and support must be clear and visible. Advisors and staff need to be present to engage with new students and help them with course selection, life on campus, financial aid, documentation, academic goals, and healthy routine building.
Figuring out the ways to engage is also important. Ask them what channel they do prefer.
We have discovered that students are highly receptive and comfortable with using live chat methods through their smartphones. This is behind Edular’s chat features that connect students and staff seamlessly.
Facilitate Academic Progress in the Remote Context
Online learning in higher education is opening great opportunities for students who could not join a program otherwise. However, this method of learning has its own challenges.
According to studies, online courses have a 10-20% higher failed retention rate in comparison to in-person programs. This also comes into play for hybrid curriculums which include both IRL classes and online participation.
However, this does not mean that remote learning is not viable. On the contrary, this model offers many unique benefits, as we have discussed in previous articles.
The important thing is: We need to be aware of the issue and use the available resources to solve it. In terms of student retention and academic success in the remote context, colleges can produce results with improved advising protocols.
Adopting a proactive and dynamic approach to advising can do wonders. Instead of waiting for the student to fail her grades or stop attending classes, advisors and staff must check in periodically even when no red flags have been raised by the system.
Platforms like Edular can automate this engagement, periodically contacting the students with tailor-made messages, leveraging SIS data, and opening real-time communication channels in case the student needs help with something specific.
A practical example of powerful automation in higher education is to trigger communication defined by relevant logic. Edular can send automated messages to students when they reach certain progress milestones toward graduation, encouragement before exams, and more.
Help Building a Strong and Active Community
A satisfying academic experience doesn’t rely entirely on the college staff (fortunately). There are other important factors at play, such as taking part in a community.
While we cannot force students to be part of the community on campus, we can help such communities to thrive.
Student communities enjoy a good degree of autonomy, which affects how the student feels. Also, communities translate into safe spaces where the member feels sheltered by her membership and the presence of peers.
Overall, college communities provide a sense of belonging that plays a disproportionate role in student satisfaction. Without it, institutions would be facing much higher dropout rates, as students would find themselves isolated and experience the negative consequence of such a state of mind.
Ask for and Use Student Feedback
Student retention has an evident direct correlation with satisfaction with the experience. There is nothing new here. The students already have a productive answer to the dropout problem.
However, it is difficult to listen. Not because institutions don’t want to hear but because communication is, more often than not, a challenge.
Today we have the resources to connect directly with the student. Even more, tools are available for us to understand who is in critical need of our attention. We can now know, in real-time, academic performance on a case basis. Automation software puts data at our service and not the way around.
As a higher education institution working on student retention, feedback is one of your most effective tools. Asking for, processing, and implementing student feedback allows you to improve the experience in a way that actually resonates with the student’s real needs and desires.
Reducing friction when asking for feedback is important. We don’t want to tell students to sit down in front of their laptops for 30 minutes in order to fill out forms. Instead, a smart user experience can make the process easier. You want to provide a simple, easy-to-digest quiz to the student (powered by Edular, for example), breaking down the barriers effortlessly.
Implementation is key. Make sure your institution is translating feedback into real initiatives and practical improvements. Test any changes and calculate the quantitative changes in satisfaction, academic performance, and retention.