It's Not Too Late: Take Steps Now To Improve Student Retention

Beacon Blog Article

By Victor Ayala | Published August 26, 2021 | Categories: Higher Education

To say it's been a difficult year and a half for higher education would be an understatement. From disruptions to in-person learning and changes in testing requirements to debates about mask mandates and vaccination requirements, it has been and continues to be a challenging time.

It is no wonder retention in college students fell two percentage points over the last year, the single largest decline since reporting by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center began. More than two million students entered universities and colleges as freshmen in the fall of 2019. Just shy of 74% of them were still in school the following fall. Community colleges were hit even harder, seeing a 5% decline in retention.

The pandemic continues to disproportionately impact students from underrepresented minorities, low-income families, non-traditional students, and students with disabilities. As members of a college or university team, you may feel helpless when it comes to stopping the pandemic itself, but you do have options for improving student retention.

 

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Be Flexible With Identifying Student Engagement and Performance Issues

Things like online learning and increased anxiety can take a toll on students, and they can make a huge impact on student retention. During the pandemic, these challenges have been pervasive and have affected students differently. To address these different issues and serve your diverse student body, you can't rely on a blanket early alert system to help you identify all struggling students. One-size-fits-all approaches let many of the most vulnerable students slip through the cracks.

Be creative and flexible. One solution? Trust your instructors to know where a student’s risk points are in their specific classes. By tailoring reporting systems to classes, you can more accurately assess and address a student’s challenges and create solutions. This way, your instructors will be able to more nimbly react to things like "warning phrases" shared by at-risk students in online discussion groups.

Once you've identified those risk points and have established your systems for tracking at-risk students, make sure you're prepared to act. But what interventions are needed? What students get which resources? During the pandemic, two already major concerns have only grown in importance: mental health and financial aid.

 

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Be Proactive in Supporting Mental Health

Even before the pandemic, the National Alliance on Mental Illness found a strong relationship between drop out rates, anxiety, and depression, with more than 64% of college dropouts citing one of these conditions as their reason for leaving school. A survey by Best Colleges found that 95% of student respondents faced anxiety and depression during the pandemic, highlighting the growing importance of mental health support as key to retention in your students.

Intervention must be more than a formality if you hope to improve your students' wellbeing and retention at your institution. Check in regularly with your students and ask openly about how they're holding up. Instructors need to be attentive to more than attendance and letter grades; academic advisors must be willing to go beyond building class schedules. Intervention, now and from here out, needs to be more personalized and more personal.

 

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Prioritize Financial Assistance

Rising tuition fees and pandemic-related job loss have drastically changed the conversation many students are having about higher education. The Horatio Alger Association, a non-profit organization and leading needs-based scholarship provider, found that four in ten students need more financial aid now than they did when the pandemic began. The same report found that one in seven students who didn't need aid before the pandemic need it now.

If bolstering your financial aid resources isn't already becoming a priority, it's time to make a change. Find ways to encourage and inform your students about available resources at all steps of recruitment and retention. Make it more than a boilerplate email or just a link on your site: create robust job boards to link students to employment opportunities on campus and in their disciplines; ensure advisors are trained extensively on available grants and scholarships.

 

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Make Your Online Experience the Best It Can Be

 Your website is often the first and most frequently used touchpoint students have with your institution. By giving them the most user-friendly website possible, you eliminate the first barrier to entry. Modern, intuitive, and mobile-responsive designs ensure your most valuable resources are easy to find. Clear, accessible, and branded content helps tell your story and provides users clear next steps. Let Beacon be your partner in creating the web experience that keeps your students informed, engaged, and enrolled!

As a full-service agency with decades of experience in higher ed, we're ready to help you take your institution's site to the next level. Contact us to get started!

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