Not long ago we met with a prospective client whose enrollment management team was nimble at recruiting students, but these efforts were akin to plugging the Titanic with a wad of chewed-up Trident: a breathtaking 48% of freshmen hadn’t returned for their sophomore year. The advice we gave to this university, and the crux of this post, addresses the dividends, both for institutions and for students, of paying attention to retention.
While academe loathes comparisons with the business world, a company with built-in repeat business opportunities that lost nearly half of its customers would not have a sophomore year. According to the National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis, the national freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for the class of 2010 was 77.1%. This means that 23%, nearly a quarter, of students drop out. What happens to the students who leave? Do they immediately transfer to another institution? Or do they take time off, decreasing the likelihood of ultimately earning a degree? What about the money they borrowed to finance their education? They now have to repay borrowed funds with little or nothing to show for it, which may lead to defaulting and years of financial hardship. Common wisdom, not to mention common sense, suggests that everyone benefits from keeping students enrolled and engaged.
Colleges and universities, especially tuition-dependent private, non-profits, have a laser-like focus on incoming students. A 2011 Noel-Levitz report suggests that private universities spend $2,185 to recruit an undergraduate student, which may include printing glossy brochures, buying advertising airtime, improving the web site, and the like. To attain a solid return on this investment, not to mention improve students’ lives, paying attention to retention is a win-win situation.
But how can we ensure their initial and long-term success so that we’re recruiting future alumni instead of one-termers? The research suggests numerous, cost-effective ways to better serve students with the goal of keeping them engaged, satisfied, and enrolled. Examples include improving academic advising; implementing early-warning systems to detect and reach at-risk students; teaching them about time-management and study skills; and letting them know what services are available, such as tutoring in the Writing Center or assistance from the Counseling Center.
Institutions can take other steps to protect both their $2,185 investment and their students by monitoring and reporting on important retention-related tasks. Tracking which students have registered for the upcoming semester and identifying those with outstanding financial aid issues are just a couple of examples. Leveraging technology to identify students in these situations and to communicate with them effectively can help institutions keep students enrolled.
Aviso Coaching helps institutions deploy both technology and people—a captivating combination that helps retain the students in whom you’ve invested so heavily. Ensuring that students have a success plan is paramount, and colleges and universities, likewise, should have a plan in place to protect the investment they’ve made in each enrolled student. In the end, both the institution and the student will benefit greatly from paying attention—not lip service—to retention.