Students who fail to graduate are costly to universities, colleges and training providers.
With more than 25% of college students dropping out without any qualification, the problem of student retention has quickly become a priority for education providers.
This is where student experience comes in. In higher education, it’s key to prioritize the experience of students not only to ensure they graduate but to have an engaged and active student base that become energized advocates and alumni.
In this article, we look at how educators can provide a better experience in order to attract and retain students.
While the UK leads the way in higher education with a retention rate of 71% compared to 49% in the US and 31% in Australia, a lot of students are falling through the cracks.
Those dwindling numbers are of major concern for the sector and future generations. There is a range of issues that come into play in failing to complete an education program including:
The last one is particularly important. Student retention is not a one-time thing, it’s about keeping the students engaged throughout their entire course through to graduation.
In the digital age, the landscape of college life and the learning experience is shifting dramatically. This offers colleges and universities a vast array of tools and avenues for increased communication.
To ensure that more students leave an institution with the credentials they came for, education providers must focus on improving the student experience.
The rise of social media has made the world more connected. Niche interest groups on sites like Facebook allow like-minded people to come together and discuss the issues that matter most to them. In university, these platforms are perfect for students to form close ties outside of the classroom.
Not all students learn the same way, with many choosing to remain quiet in lectures, taking notes and saving their questions and opinions until they are behind a keyboard. With access to online forums, students can continue their learning at their own pace, work together on group projects and swap knowledge with a range of different minds on their course topics.
In fact, studies suggest that students who take part in online discussions tend to perform better in their exams than those only involved in class discussion. By actively promoting the use of online forums, education providers can foster a strong community spirit among their students.
Social media gives education providers the ability to reach out to students before they even start. It also enables students to ‘meet’ each other online, sparking friendships and working relationships from the very beginning of their time at college.
As the average 16-24-year-old spends a lot of time on social media, it is only logical for colleges to use the different platforms to connect with their students. Visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are great for using visuals to communicate information, while Facebook and Twitter are ideal for promoting interaction and providing solutions to concerns or issues.
With some careful planning and strategy, colleges and universities can build their brand on social media. Using features such as video stories, they can share student experiences and promote upcoming events to build engagement and as a result retention.
Nobody knows the pros and cons of a learning program better than the students. Student feedback is a core component in the success of the Teaching Excellence and Students Outcomes Framework (TEF) system in place in the UK.
Through the National Student Survey, for example, education providers give the students a voice, enabling them to provide their colleges and universities with feedback on the course and teaching environment.
With tools such as SurveyMonkey and Google Forms, it’s easy to ask students what they think while polls on social media and blogs are simple ways to get intel into what students want to know more about or have concerns about.
This gives the institutions valuable insights and external verification on what is working and what needs to be changed to improve the student experience. In effect, students can become co-creators of their own learning environment. The key is to implement suggestions that may work and let students know you are trialing it.
Going to college can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Students want to know what happens at the end of the journey over and above graduation.
In this age of digital with people relying more and more on peer reviews and endorsements, alumni can help to raise awareness of an institution amongst the audience that matters - your students.
In essence, students want to see the potential for true success and growth, both personally and professionally. Graduates who have gone on to enjoy great success are the most valuable brand ambassadors a college or university can ask for.
By setting up avenues for current students to chat with alumni, ask them questions and learn from their success, educational institutions will be able to demonstrate just how successful their courses and teaching systems are. Mentorship programs have proven to boost student retention rate and keep alumni engaged.
Before dropping out, students will typically show signs of disengagement or disenchantment, which can accelerate quickly from missed classes to late submissions before running into real difficulties. It isn’t easy to keep track of every student’s performance, especially when dealing with thousands across a range of schools and levels.
Fortunately, digital advancements provide faculty members with tools to keep track of their students. Automation retention software such as Persistence Plus lets colleges and universities provide personal support to students who may be struggling.
The impact of such tools is significant, with a 6% increase in persistence for students who were in danger of dropping out, as well as a boost in the number of students seeking tutoring.
The global rise of smartphone use provides a streamlined platform for institutions to leverage in their attempts to boost student retention.
Many universities have set about creating their own mobile apps, from personal assistants that help students manage study time and plan schedules, to networking services that connect students with tutors, find roommates and keep updated on college events.
A popular example is Skoolar, which allows students to showcase their achievements, and connect with others through academics. Offering digital channels to assist, inform and engage students will allow educational institutions to make big strides towards creating a better student experience.
While learning is the primary goal of any student pursuing higher education, the institution can do much more than provide academic support.
In considering the well-being of the students, education providers may improve student retention by developing their counseling service.
The merits of such an approach are easy to confirm as 70% of students who have attended counseling admit their personal problems have interfered with their academic performance.
Beyond that, colleges and universities should look to create a learning environment that is geared towards entrepreneurship. Soft skills like networking and negotiation gained through career centers or workshops are increasingly important to success in the digital age.
In the US, where retention is an issue, education leaders are coming together to address the issue with the support of philanthropic associations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Through the University Innovation Alliance, 11 large universities are working together to increase the number and diversity of college graduates. Taking a practical approach, the partnership looks at innovations which are most effective in student retention.
To do this they focus on and adopt a new initiative each year to test its efficacy – the first being the use of predictive analytics, followed by proactive advising. The result of this initiative can be seen in the universities that are active in the alliance with completion data showing that the number of low-income graduates has increased by 24% in just 3 years. Enrollments have also increased while the cost of education has come down due to the introduction of grants.
The takeaway? Consider all students at your institution and look at ways to help their progression to graduation using all the resources and tools available.
When students start to have doubts about their course or institution, they can feel isolated or alone. They might not see the help available and feel disconnected from anyone who can turn things around. This is a major issue in falling student retention rates.
To counter the problem, universities and colleges must look to connect on a more personalized level, through a range of initiatives from counseling and alumni mentorship programs, to fostering a strong sense of community on-campus and through social media.
In the digital age, peer reviews can have a big impact on the success of any brand. The most powerful way to boost brand awareness is through the people who believe in it most - your students.