The “first-year experience” is a hot topic in higher ed. If you are focused on new student fall to fall retention, you are entering a critical time. Most obstacles and doubts have likely surfaced by now and in the spring term they will start to cement. Missing home, program of study, social integration and finances are just some factors that come into play. Reflecting on the fall term and identifying the predominant obstacles will lead to more effective student support and increased persistence.
I have consistently found year after year that an entering cohort of students has its own personality. Meaning, each cohort has their own unique characteristics. This results in shifting strengths and challenges your students face. I love this aspect of student retention – it keeps you on your toes. Considering that fall cohorts are typically the largest of the year, it’s valuable to hone in on the trends that are impacting student success for that cohort. As you dive into the spring term, modifying your support to meet those needs can be highly advantageous.
Here are 6 steps to impact first year retention:
- Look at trends in obstacles students are facing
- Identify common themes
- Shift resources to meet student challenges
- Collaborate and gain alignment on strategies to support students
- Share tools and approaches that have worked to help students overcome obstacles
- Identify the students who are facing these obstacles quickly
Look for trends in obstacles students are facing. Discuss as a group what you are observing with your students while also pulling any quantitative data available.
Identify common themes. Document 3 to 5 barriers keeping the themes student-focused (meaning, don’t blame the football team’s poor season).
Shift resources to meet student challenges. Ensure that the size of the team or department is commensurate with the number of students who need support.
Collaborate and gain alignment on strategies to support students. Utilize the collective wisdom of your team to document how to approach and navigate through your common themes.
Share tools and approaches that have worked to help students overcome obstacles. If an approach doesn’t work, don’t give up. It often takes a couple of times before you get it down. Celebrate wins and publicize effective strategies.
Identify the students who are facing these obstacles quickly. The best time to build skills and hone a student’s attitude is when they are face to face with their challenge.
If you’re lucky, a student will sit down with an instructor, advisor, coach or support staff and clearly articulate the concerns on their mind. But don’t count on this to happen. Engage, listen and poke around to flush out potential barriers to year two. You’re the expert who can provide coaching and make the difference between a student achieving their academic goals or not. Believe that you have the ability to make that difference and you will!!
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