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Five Steps to Increase Retention
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Five Steps to Increase Retention

Being proactive about increasing retention is far more effective than scrambling to respond to changes.

It is becoming increasingly important for higher education institutions to raise their retention and graduation rates; after all, public funding and consumer trust is increasingly hinging on those statistics. One important piece of advice is not to chase students who are on the way out. Chasing higher retention numbers can be a daunting, expensive and time-consuming task. Many times, programs and services fall into a reactionary mode rather than approaching the problem of trying to save lost-causes from the front end.

Using these five strategies will allow your program to be proactive when it comes to persistence and retention rates.

1. Know the Profile of your Student

It is important to know the characteristics of your students. Know the demographics and barriers facing them. We are living in a world of customization. Defining the profile of your student will allow you to tailor communication. Customer Resource Management (CRM) tools allow entities to gather information about their consumers and then target them with the right services.

Do not wait until students are leaving to focus on them. Focus from day one on their profiles and why students choose your institution. This will allow you to manage future barriers and build on what initially brought them to you.

2. Establish a Communication Plan

Defining when students need to know information about your program is key. A big piece of the pie can be missed when we do not communicate with students using the right channels, tools and timelines. Operating without an established plan allows for subpar communication and missed opportunities. Collaborate across programs to coordinate your communications with students. If ten offices are communicating with students all at once, only one or two will get the students’ attention. Draft your communication in your downtime and use technology to automatically send during your programs’ peak service.

3. Simplify and Front-Load Communication

Take time to simplify your communication. Do not assume students come prepared or know how to navigate your system. Acronyms, vocabulary, policies and procedures can often be the difference between to a student feeling supported or ready to leave.

You must ask yourself, “What you want students to do as a result of your words?” Once this has been defined, gather upper-level student feedback to simplify your messages. Design eye catching, attention grabbing templates which can be personalized. Use available tutorials and “how to” documents when possible to polish of your work. Most importantly use your communication with students to set your expectations for results and outcomes from day one.

4. Use Emerging Technology

Require staff to use technology that students are using. Set an expectation for staff to become familiar with an emerging social media or software. Streamlining processes by using technology allows staff time to be funneled in more efficient ways, although it is critical to provide staffers with technology training. Offer to meet with distance students through video conferencing software to give a personal touch. Teach students how to use smart phone applications that will help them with organizational skills, time management, financial planning and more.

5. Include Research and Reality

Use research in conversations with students. We have grown out of a period where we can expect students to complete activities or seek our services just because we tell them it is beneficial. If you are working with a student on setting goals, use a research article that shows the rate students persist because of completing the activity.

Do not hesitate to have a frank conversation about the barriers students will meet on the road to completing their degree. Have students identify their top three barriers to achieving their degree. Then have them identify a plan of action for each of the barriers. This can help relieve anxiety, a feeling of being overwhelmed or thoughts of quitting.

Use your words to motivate and remember to be a coach, not a critic. Show genuine excitement when a student shows progress. Using phrases like, “I am proud of your accomplishments,” is powerful. Remember you may be the only person championing the student’s educational goals.

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2 Responses to Five Steps to Increase Retention

  1. Jessica Prince Reply

    2013/11/12 at 9:23 am

    That point about ensuring faculty and administrators are comfortable with new technologies is key.

    The transition period to adopting new technologies is made infinitely worse because many admins simply can’t/won’t learn how the new technology wokrks.

  2. Art LaMan Reply

    2013/11/18 at 4:25 pm

    Interesting piece that covers a number of worthwhile topics.

    Ignoring for a moment whether retention and graduation rates are appropriate metrics of program value (regardless of public sentiment or the proclamations of “experts” with agendas – hidden or otherwise), one thing that you might want to consider adding is the proper setting of expectations.

    It is difficult for students to continue to find value in a program if they are not given the truth about program rigor, typical student profile, actual academic support resources available, expected knowledge level of program entrants, etc. I believe that this is particularly important, in programs with “open admissions.” Although I am an ardent support of such initiatives (and have benefited from them throughout my academic career), it is distressing to see students who do not understand that “open admissions” does not mean “guaranteed degree” – they must do the work and demonstrate the competencies required by the faculty and accreditation boards.

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