Strategies to improve student retention in higher education

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Strategies to improve student retention in higher education

Students quitting higher education is an issue that has become an important concern to universities and colleges around the world.

In a previous blog we explained that “having a significant number of students dropping studies at higher education means a great loss of the investment done for their development and limits their possibilities of having better employment opportunities.”

In addition to that, a Griffith University study holds that “not only the university suffer financially, but attrition produces a downward pressure on student admission standards as we are required to recruit even more students into first year, in order to fill places than would otherwise have been the case.”

In the last years, institutions from United States and Europe have developed studies to detect quitting factors and programs to face that weaknesses and transform them into strengths, with ‘student sense of belonging’ as a key concept that drives the whole process. In this way, a wide variety of retention strategies has been conceived and applied in universities and colleges of any size, public and private.

In order to plan and to implement these strategies, institutions commonly agree that the best ones are those where all students participate in, and “the academic sphere is the most important site for nurturing participation of the type which engenders a sense of belonging. This puts high quality student-centred learning and teaching at the heart of effective student retention and success,” Deloitte explained in a retention seminar in Ireland.

“Specific interventions – consultant adds – cannot be recommended over and above each other. Rather the institution, department, programme and module should all nurture a culture of belonging through the way they function and relate to people.”

Let’s look into some commonly mentioned strategies to improve retention.

Student-centred active learning

The most mentioned strategy by far. According to an Australian Universities Review paper, “there is a consensus that interactive as opposed to didactic teaching improves academic success and promotes the inclusion of learners who might feel like outsiders. Student-centred learning conceives of students as playing a more active role in their learning processes.”

“Student-centred, discussion-based and groupbased learning activities promote enhanced student participation and interaction; more willingness by students to express their ideas; improved communication among students in culturally diverse classes; better adjustment to university study (for international and UK students); a shift towards deep learning as a space is created for learners to test out new concepts; increased motivation, quality of discussion and level of analysis,” the AUR paper adds.

Grittih University study says that this kind of strategy “should reflect a student lifecycle approach, that recognizes and supports diversity and social inclusion. It places students at the centre of interventions from the point of initial contact with the University and the early stages of orientation and transition to university study, succeeding in their academic studies, through to the point of graduation.”

Retention is the Business of All University Staff

The message can’t be clearer. An all-institution commitment is necessary to raise a belonging spirit in every student. It isn’t a mission just for teachers or vocational counselors, but also for deans, administrative staff etc. The whole institution must understand that higher education isn’t a service, but an experience, probably one of the most rewarding experience in life.

So, the AUR paper explains that “each area needs to have a clear implementation plan, identified timescale, and specified responsibilities for delivery. All university staff contribute to student success and, to be effective, the strategy requires a strong partnership between academic and professional staff. The respective roles and responsibilities relating to retention need to be clarified and we need to build staff capacity through professional development. We also need to develop leadership capabilities at multiple levels to support implementation of retention strategies across the university, with clear accountabilities for delivery.”

The ‘Belonging, Engagement, Retention’ Model

These are the three stages that every student should be pass through in order to have a successful higher education experience. According to a Higher Education Academy study, “At the individual level ‘belonging’ recognises students’ subjective feelings of relatedness or connectedness to the institution. This “involves feeling connected.”

“Engagement – the HEA study adds – develops relationships with others and promotes connectedness, but as Kelly (2001) points out, some people with a lower need to belong may be satisfied by few contacts, while others with greater need to belong may need many such contacts. Kuh (2009, p. 683) has defined student engagement as “the time and effort students devote to activities that are empirically linked to desired outcomes of college and what institutions do to induce students to participate in these activities”.

About these concepts there are a wide variety of literature, studies and cases available. We just mentioned them briefly in order to motivate a discussion about it.

Have you already implemented retention solutions in your institution? Which are the main factors of student quitting in your country? We invite you to share a comment.