Learning how to improve university performance can have noticeable results for both your academic institution and the students themselves. When almost one third of students in the United States and Canada do not finish their programs, with some of them even dropping out before their second year, schools need to pay close attention to the fulfillment of their students – from the application process until their graduation. Whether it’s about putting programs in place, such as specific university partnerships that offer career coaching, or implementing the best college student retention practices, there is always work to be done to address students’ higher education needs and ensure that dropout rates remain low.

Read on to find out how colleges and universities can measure their performance and boost their ranking amid tight competition to retain their students and benefit everyone involved. 

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9 min read

How College and University Performance is Measured How Colleges and Universities Can Improve Their Performance and Ranking How College and Universities Benefit How Students Benefit Conclusion FAQs

How College and University Performance is Measured

By Tracking Performance Indicators

Any given school’s individual performance is mainly dependent on its student body. After all, what is a school without its students? Colleges and universities are evaluated on a variety of different factors, such as the caliber of their faculty and staff, the publications/research they produce, and the types of study programs they offer. However, no matter how much success an academic institution may have, its ability to give worthwhile education and a sense of community to its students is a fundamental indicator of whether its procedures are running smoothly. As an academic leader, your goal is to provide students with a path to success while enrolled at your university but also once they move on to their careers.

Some of the main performance indicators in a university specifically related to students are the full-time enrollment statistics, their retention rate in comparison to other schools in the same region, the number of international students they enroll and what countries they come from, the quality of students they enroll in terms of their incoming averages, and the degrees granted, whether they be from the undergraduate or graduate level.

By Assessing Indicator Results

A university’s dropout, retention, and graduation rates prove its larger success or failure as an institution overall. A beneficial way for a university to begin addressing issues within their organization and improving their performance is to take note of how many students are dropping out, why they are leaving, what departments they belong to, and how far along in their degree they were. It is important to place yourself in the shoes of students and imagine why they should enroll at your institution, stay through their degree, and eventually graduate.

With many schools, there is often a large focus on how to improve student recruitment, and while it is extremely important to market your institution effectively to incoming students, those matriculants would need to earn their degree for all of the recruiting to make a significant difference. The focus on student retention should last the entire time the student is pursuing their education with you, from their very first semester until their last. At the same time, dropout prevention should be a top priority for any school looking to raise its standing.

Any given university’s focus on co-operative education and providing professional experience for their students also factors into their performance. The quality of resources in their establishment, such as financial support, libraries, or study spaces, and advancement gifts by donors or alumni that aid future students can help perpetuate a more positive cycle of retention. Most students who drop out are preventable losses that could have been avoided with the right amount of support. It is the combination of all these measures that will lead to a lower dropout rate and better performance overall in your institution.

How Colleges and Universities Can Improve Their Performance and Ranking

Recruiting the Right Students

Addressing issues of student retention is one of the surefire ways to improve an individual school’s performance, but figuring out the best college recruitment strategies is the first step in the process to enrolling the right students into your school. Telling your story, solidifying your values, using social media marketing, attending in-person recruitment events whenever possible, and updating your website are the most prolific ways to attract the best quality applicants, no matter the size of your institution.

Detecting the Issues

That said, once the students are there, retaining their interest and discerning where potential problems may be is a never-ending process, but it is a constant way of improving overall performance. Building a database that will store information on incoming, outgoing, and dropout students could detect any red flags. Finding the source or cause of a leak and patching them up as effectively as possible is a good way to stay afloat. There will always be students who drop out or applicants who choose to attend somewhere else; that is just the name of the game. However, lowering those statistics and putting in the necessary effort to resolve issues should not be a nuisance. Every college and university on the planet will have different specific issues with retention in their programs, but the underlying matter is the benefit and quality of life of their students.

Making a Great First Impression

Making incoming students feel welcome on your campus, particularly in their first year, is crucial to that quality of life. Many of them are temporarily leaving their homes, families, and friends to begin studying at your institution, so building community and relieving loneliness as much as possible should be a top priority during orientation proceedings. Having an inclusive welcoming process that allows for a seamless transition into your school will have an immediate impact. People often remember the beginning and the end of an experience the most, so starting off strongly by introducing students to your programs and services will make a great first impression. Students come into a school thinking about their future, so providing an optimistic outlook that you can then back up will be paramount to retaining that level of enthusiasm.

Letting Students Have a Voice

Providing students with the ability to give feedback and voice their concerns about anything regarding their school will allow for the data collection needed to eventually address them. It is a succinct way to evaluate student satisfaction within your school and let them know they are being heard. These assessments can be conducted in a variety of ways and formats, especially when using the technology available to the college or university. Students who experience specific difficulties relating to their academic or personal needs should have access to the necessary academic advisors and personnel to ensure they receive proper aid. Pay attention to groups that are particularly at risk, such as minorities, students who are financially challenged, or those who are not performing well in their courses. 

Giving Students Opportunities to Grow

When students are preparing for their professional futures, being in school is a great way to begin networking or honing whatever skills they need to excel in their endeavors. Part of this encouragement includes mentorship opportunities with other students, social events, and faculty mixers. Whether it be guest and motivational speakers, live entertainment, carnivals or outdoor activities, the possibilities are endless. Colleges and universities could also offer services to boost students' confidence in specific environments, such as essay workshops or interview skills workshops. Creating a supportive campus culture and a life on campus that gives students the chance to have fun and meet like-minded people while they study is crucial to their perception of your school.

Hiring the Right Staff

It’s important to acknowledge the other people students will interact with on a daily basis in your institution. Hiring dedicated faculty and staff members who are motivated to help students is crucial to increasing the university’s overall performance. Negative experiences with a faculty or staff member will imminently sour a student on your institution and affect its reputation as a whole through word of mouth. Employing the right people on your campus will create an environment where students feel supported in their studies. Utilizing the best employee recruitment strategies will guide you to finding those extra-special workers who will make a difference in the lives of students. Ensure that professors, advisors, administrative staff, and other university workers are aware of the values and positive culture you intend to promote for those studying on your grounds. Employees who are unempathetic or unmotivated will transmit that energy toward the students in their vicinity and make them more likely to struggle academically. Studies have shown that positive relationships between students and teachers have been linked to higher academic achievement, attendance and fewer disruptive behaviors. Supervise the performance of employees with frequent evaluations. In addition, having students be able to give feedback on their courses at several opportunities throughout the year also makes a better-performing university overall.

Including Academic Advisors

In addition to hiring like-minded and supportive staff, hiring academic advisors in particular is crucial to student retention and improving a university’s performance. A team or network of college advisors can help students progress through their degree, sign up for the right courses at the right time, aid with career planning, and more. If a student doesn’t understand what to do next or is having trouble navigating the journey of higher education, especially as a freshman, an advisor should be there to guide their hand. During the recruitment process, students should be informed of where to find advisors or help sessions at any given time during their studies.

When they enter a school, students are already juggling a lot and may not have the time or the resources to discover the options that an academic advisor could help them with. Students will be less likely to drop out if they feel their needs are being met and when advisors care about their goals just as much as they do.

How College and Universities Benefit

Improving college or university performance indicators is rooted in the people who operate the institution, the students they admit, and the success or failure of said students. There are a number of additional benefits of implementing worthwhile recruitment, hiring, and retainment practices that will contribute to a better overall performance for higher education institutions.

Evidently, there is a significant financial benefit to keeping satisfied students enrolled in your school and lowering dropout rates. A larger income for the university means the opportunity to further invest in all the strategies listed above to improve performance, such as hiring or recruitment, but also to expand the campus, update buildings, or engage in any action that enhances the quality of life at your school. Putting more money into the betterment of your university leads to creative options for growth, attracting new faces and maintaining those that are already studying with you. A loss in revenue will affect other aspects of the university experience and negatively impact the student body. An increased flow of funding and income may lead to better research opportunities, boosting your school’s publication output and overall standing compared to the competition.

Students who complete their degree could become potential future graduate students as well. If they enjoyed their initial experience with your institution, they are likely to apply again because they are already familiar with the campus, the departments related to their field of study, and the various kinds of services provided. At whichever level they graduate, students can also become successful alumni, which will bring wider attention to your school and further elevate its reputation, allowing for additional advancement opportunities.

How Students Benefit

When a university works hard to improve its performance, students can and should reap the benefits of attending a school that puts effort into their satisfaction.

First, having more resources and services at their fingertips will save them time and energy. Students need as much time as possible to focus on their assignments, get to know their peers, and take care of their own health. Every service you offer students should be easily accessible and not a chore to take advantage of. Maneuvering complicated university processes or a lack of individual support only adds to their busy schedules without providing much comfort. Giving students more time to work on their studies is giving them more time to succeed.

When you implement extensive and consistent retention measures, students are more likely to receive equal access to the education that they deserve when they apply to a university. A larger income with less turnover comes with a higher chance of funding for those from less fortunate socioeconomic backgrounds. The quality of their learning increases due to the guidance of passionate professors and knowledgeable advisors, allowing for a more positive outlook on their future. Students who graduate are more likely to have higher-paying jobs, make positive contributions to society, and make the best use of their potential or skillset.


Within the classes they take and the dorms they live in, students are the main users of your institution throughout their tenure. To see an improvement in university performance, students should be treated as a priority. To have any success in their programs, students need surroundings that encourage them to do their best and reinforce the gains of high-quality education in achieving their dreams. To reduce dropout rates in your school, the ultimate objective is establishing a positive environment for students where they feel supported as they move through a very uncertain period of their lives. Substantial effort to impact student experience inevitably comes back around, positively affecting a school’s public reception and its ability to serve its purpose as educators of future generations.


1. What indicators do universities use to measure their performance?

In terms of students, they usually track full-time enrollment statistics and other rates over the course of a year, such as how many students complete their studies, international students, and high-quality students coming in from their previous institutions with higher averages. 

In addition to the level of research and education they offer, universities also take note of notable alumni achievements and their ability as a school to financially support students through donations, gifts, and other contributions. 

2. Where do you start when trying to improve a university’s overall performance?

Take a look at what you are already doing for student recruitment and retention and see if there are any ways those measures could improve. Before they even apply, offer pre-college information to potential students so they can assess for themselves whether higher education is right for them. Orientation for new students is a huge opportunity to introduce them to everything that your school can help with. Conducting surveys of currently enrolled students will assess their issues in real time and indicate what they need even beyond their first year. 

3. What are the current dropout rates in Canada and the United States?

Currently, the college dropout rates are 31% for Canada and 32.9% for the US, which averages out to about a third of all students enrolled.

4. Why do students drop out of higher education institutions?

There is a plethora of reasons for why a student may decide to end their studies at a particular university. Some do not have the financial resources to continue their education or cannot work and study successfully at the same time. Others do not feel supported by their friends and family. They may also need a change in career path after not enjoying their courses or feel overwhelmed by a program’s workload. All these aspects can contribute to mental health or other issues that may prevent the student from doing well in school.

To avoid raising dropout rates, student retention methods help to address these specific needs. There will always be some students who drop out, but most cases are preventable with the right amount of support from their college or university.

5. How can a university improve its student retention rate?

A larger focus on retention practices further facilitates a university’s goal of having students graduate. They are also efficient for a university’s financial stability. These funds can then be recycled back into their retention strategies.

6. My school has a really high retention rate. Should I still revisit my school’s retention strategies?

Absolutely. Updating retention strategies is a continuous practice that never ends for a high-performing college or university. Every school has its students who drop out, so finding out why those particular cases made that decision is crucial to fixing the issue. 

7. Is it possible for a low retention rate to be fixed?

With enough strategy, time, and effort, yes. Putting the needs of the students first takes strategic planning and a focus on feedback. If your students feel supported in all aspects, they will be much more likely to complete their programs.

8. How do admissions consulting programs help enrollment and retention?

Having a consultant prepares students for the next step in their education, should they require it. They can act as a guide to perfecting every step of their application process, such as writing a statement of intent, mock interviews, and exam preparation, while also discussing career options.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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