Universities and colleges work hard to attract students to their campuses each year in what is now a very competitive market place, but the really hard work is in retaining them. Therefore, it is vital that education providers have clearly defined student retention strategies and tools in place.
Students don’t set out to abandon their studies, which they often later regret or end up being left with unwanted financial implications, your student retention strategy is also important to them. When students are clear about where they can go for help and support in times of need, you will already be on your way to reducing your drop-out rate. Even better if you engage with them ahead of them arriving and encourage them to seek out others who are starting at the same time they will arrive with a greater sense of already belonging.
Of course, there are many complex reasons why students choose to leave early; these can range from poor preparation for university life to changes in their personal circumstances. Often it can be the culmination of lots of smaller reasons leading to the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ moment. So the more you know about each of your students and from day one work towards fostering close relationships between students and academic staff the more likely you will be to spot problems and reduce the risk of a student leaving.
Another critical area for good retention is student data. This, however, will often be held in different places, in different systems and with different departments being responsible for differing aspects of the data. To further help avoid those ‘straw breaking’ moments, it is important that this data is easily available to all who need it, for example, via one dashboard. The data can then be easily accessed and interrogated by administrators and teaching staff alike to highlight potential at risk students and put early interventions in place.
Significant early warnings of student disengagement are erratic attendance patterns or regularly handing in assignments late or badly completed, not using campus services such as the library or online learning service. These key signals are much easier to spot and early action taken, when staff have a good student/teacher relationship and have easy access to data. It is worth noting that having all data displayed via on dashboard does not mean scrapping existing systems, but simply integrating them into one place.
Other retention tools at education provider’s fingertips are using mobile apps for student communications and moving from the more traditional paper-based registers to an automated system.
It goes without saying that the main focus of any retention strategy is going to be around student learning and providing teaching excellence, but relationships and data will enhance this strategy and definitely has a role to play.
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