10 Student Retention Strategies for Institutions

by | Jan 7, 2023

student retention strategies

Student retention has become a pressing issue for most college administrators as the rate of students persisting to graduation has declined significantly since the 2008 recession. Not only is it much more expensive to enroll a new student than it is to retain an existing one, states have developed funding formulas based on data such as graduation rates, impacting schools that receive those funds.

The following ten retention strategies for students serve as a guideline for institutions seeking to improve graduation rates: 

1. Make It a Priority— Invest In It 

Investing in data-collection and analytics, digital advising management systems, and personnel are all critical for improving student retention. Technology-enabled initiatives not only help students achieve academic success, they generate significant returns when deployed properly. 

2. Set a Measurable Goal and Track It

Setting goals and tracking key metrics related to program efficacy, student achievement and behavior, and resource allocation is important for faculty, staff, and students alike. These should be rooted in data, easily measurable, and assessed frequently. 

3. Take a Proactive—Not Reactive—Stance

According to a study in the Journal of College Student Development, encouraging students to focus on their strengths allows them to learn more effectively. This, in turn, positively affecting retention rates. So, institutions are likely to improve student retention by incorporating proactive, strengths-based programming into residential life, academic advising, and student organizations.

4. Think Beyond Grades and Courses

Factors influencing student retention in higher education are often rooted in students’ personal experiences. This includes those outside of the classroom. Providing opportunities for community among students, for example, can increase the likelihood of persistence through to graduation.

5. Incentivize Students to Adopt Good Habits

Incentivization to encourage positive lifestyle choices can be a powerful retention strategy for students. For example, a study conducted by the Research Institute of Industrial Economics showed students who received a free gym membership for a semester went to the gym more often. Also, their academic performance improved.   

6. Make it an Inter-Departmental Effort

When addressing how to increase student retention, administrators must compose diverse teams. Teams should consist of those who have the most regular contact with students. For example, data analysts, communications specialists, and researchers/professors who are experts in relevant fields like economics and psychology. This allows for buy-in of strategic retention plans that are scalable to the entire institution.

7. Build Ongoing Student Engagement – Start Early and Engage Often

With the changing face of higher education many institutions are shifting their heavy focus on recruitment and admissions to retention efforts. Some institutions have made recruitment & retention part of the same position in order to provide continuity in students’ transition to college. 

8. Develop an Ongoing Student Retention Plan

Although most students who leave college tend to do so in their first year, 10 percent leave after completing 90% of the credits towards their degree and 1 in 5 leave after completing 75%. Most institutions focus heavily on retaining first year students but tend to neglect students who are nearing completion. Prioritizing retention across all years can improve outcomes significantly. 

9. Apply a Data-Driven Approach to Student Retention

The leaders of the top three national associations of higher education cite that data analytics are a must in order to make appropriate strategic retention-related decisions. In order to create an ongoing plan, institutions must understand what is going on in real time and by utilizing predictive analytics, faculty and staff can get out ahead of potential issues. The right technology platform can solve even the most challenging aspects of student retention.

10. Systematically Improve Student Wellbeing

Once key barriers are identified, providing relevant opportunities for students to make healthy choices in the context of community is among the most effective retention strategies for students. 

The issue of student retention is a pressing one; institutions that make strategic investments of funds and time can see significant returns.

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