Learn what the best practices for student retention in higher education are in 2023, including the best college student retention practices, and how you can implement them at your institution! Retaining students is essential to creating a positive, supportive learning environment for students across all programs.
Many higher education institutions invest millions annually on student acquisition and recruitment strategies, but retaining students is just as vital. The best practices for student retention in higher education are not limited to the students’ first year of study, but rather, should extend into the ways that continuous support is offered to students throughout their academic journey.
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Why Retaining Students is Important
Educational institutions can employ student retention strategies through internal efforts or through external university partnerships offering unique student benefits and opportunities. Universities and colleges can now partner with BeMo's university student benefits program to give students access to these unique benefits. BeMo gives students expert admissions help and professional skills development, including essay writing, interview skills and career coaching, anytime they need it. In return, educational institutions can benefit from increased student retention.
Student retention is a key factor in the success of each individual academic institution for many reasons, here are a few:
- Students who stay in school and graduate are more likely to pursue graduate school or another professional program, which means they're more likely to get their ideal job, pay taxes, and contribute positively to society as their individual goals are met
- Graduating students have higher earning and success potential than non-graduates. Non-graduates may continue to face barriers, may not be able to demonstrate their full potential in a lower paying job, and can have fewer opportunities for career advancement and satisfaction
- Having successful alumni graduate from your school, and tracking/sharing the data publicly, such as “80% of [this program’s] graduates find a job in their field within a year of graduating!”, can actually contribute to both your recruitment and retention strategies and cast your school in a positive light
- Students deserve equal access to education, and support over the duration of their time spent in academia. It’s important that they are able to access support and feel a sense of community during their time at school, especially if they are hoping to further their education, or, are struggling with courses
- Your institution loses money, and may struggle with a questionable reputation, if several students are dropping out
- Students may be dropping out of your institution for preventable reasons. When students do resign, it’s important that you assess the situation and try to decide whether or not you’d have been able to retain them had you demonstrated better retention practices. Some students may decide that school isn’t a financially feasible option for them, or, may feel as though they’re not yet ready to pursue a higher education…it happens! Others, however, may feel as though they aren’t getting the support, feel no sense of community, dislike their program’s delivery, or be facing other personal barriers
Overall, it’s important that your institution is able to retain students for the entire duration of their program in order to continue to contribute toward the academic and professional success of the younger generation, and, in order to uphold your institution’s reputation.
Drop outs will occur, of course, but if you’re seeing a decline in students who remain at your institution and successfully graduate, it may be time to assess your best practices and approaches for student retention.
Implementing the best retention practices is a continuous task. Student orientation is a great way to make new students feel at home, and is often perceived as the best way to make students feel welcomed, but your retention practices shouldn’t stop there!
Best Practices for Student Retention
In order to understand why students are leaving your institution without graduating and what can be done to retain them, you may need to evaluate your current practices, analyze data, revisit your current recruitment strategy, and review the best college recruitment strategies.
Consider the following as best practices for improving student retention:
The key to student retention is to act before students leave, and continually evaluate, assess and alter how your institution approaches its best practices for student retention. A good way to get started is by developing a plan for each student, which involves gathering information about each student's background, interests and goals, as well as their academic performance. Along with this, keeping track of data and performance is key. This can be done through surveys and other evaluations, as well as by assessing their performance by course. Utilizing your institution’s chosen web portal is a great way to initiate regular surveys or polls for feedback, too. By collecting this data, you will be able to develop interventions that are customized for your particular students. This process involves many steps:
Student retention should be a priority for all higher education institutions. It is important to focus on creating a positive student experience so it can lead to academic satisfaction. When students are satisfied with their college life, they are more likely to continue their studies. Students at the university level require supportive environments that encourage them to prosper as members of your academic community and succeed in their educational goals. This supportive environment includes dedicated staff and faculty, access to academic advisors, an inclusive and welcoming campus, networking and engagement opportunities, and additional support, such as academic consulting to help them plan for their future careers.
1. What does student retention mean?
Student retention refers to the number of students who complete their program at your institution. Retention, or ‘retaining someone’ for the expected duration of time is favorable in workplaces, for example, as well as schools. If your institution is able to retain, say, 90% of your students for the duration of their program, that means you see very few drop outs and students are completing their courses, and eventually graduating!
2. Why is student retention important?
Student retention is very important in higher education because for every student that drops out, your institution is losing money, and perhaps its reputation! Students will inevitably drop out, of course, as some realize that their chosen path isn’t for them. However, it’s unfortunate if students are dropping out for preventable reasons, such as feeling unwelcomed or overwhelmed by the campus experience, disliking their program instructors, feeling a lack of support, being confused about their future, grades or financial abilities, or being offered limited opportunities for engagement. Learning why students are leaving, what could have prevented their departure, and what can be done to better the student experience is all a part of building a retention strategy and understanding best practices.
3. Are retention practices ongoing, or are they geared toward first year students?
Retention practices are always ongoing! Seldom do students not require support in their upper years of study. Your institution and your programs should understand how to support and engage with students at all levels of schooling. Orientation and communication with your first-year students is very important because it sets the tone and makes an impression of them as they begin their educational journey, however, students will require support and opportunities throughout their years at your institution in order to succeed, thrive, make important decisions about their career path, and stay enrolled in their program.
4. Is paying attention to retention important for all programs and institutions?
Yes! Retention is important for all levels of higher education. Undergraduate students, MBA students, medical students, law students, and so on.
No matter what type of focus your institution has in mind, you’ll want to ensure you’re able to retain students throughout the duration of their program in order to help them succeed and send them down a promising career path. If your students are dropping out at concerning rates, especially in their upper years or in a graduate/professional program, something isn’t right!
5. What are some of the best practices for student retention in higher education?
The best practices for student retention in higher education include: providing exciting inclusive orientation activities and utilizing social media groups/pages for students in all years, but especially first years. Ensuring that students have ample networking and mentorship opportunities, dedicated faculty, encouraging academic advising, and providing resources, support and guidance to students who are struggling with their academics, personal struggles or finances are all great ways to retain students. Along with this, using surveys or other evaluations to gauge student success, impressions and feedback is a great way to figure out what needs to be improved upon at your institution.
6. I want to implement better practices for student retention, where should I start?
Start by looking at your current strategies and practices, as well as your data. Is your drop-out rate standard, or, are you losing students frequently? If so, you’ll want to hone in on what programs and years the students were in, and see if you recognize any patterns. You may want to consider student surveys and ask for student feedback, as well as feedback from faculty, as you determine what your next best steps will be, whether it’s curating a better social media and communication/networking environment for your first-year students, or improving your academic advising practices, or anything in between.
7. My school has a low retention rate, can it be fixed?
Yes. It may require some strategic analysis, planning, and work, but a low retention rate often reversible when the contributing factors are identified and corrected!
8. How can academic consulting help?
Offering academic consulting to students will appeal to them as being more than just a perk, but as a means to help guide them on their academic journey and path toward graduate or professional school. Students who become discouraged throughout their program, perhaps who have a low GPA or feel overwhelmed by the thought of accomplishing their career goals, are at risk for dropping out of their program entirely. Academic advising can help students with their current studies and barriers to an extent, however, academic consulting is more of a preparatory service that helps students approach interviews, exams, and multi-step applications with confidence.
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