Published on 2015/09/29
The EvoLLLution | Four Steps to Improving Retention Through Engagement
By focusing on institutional engagement strategies at every level, colleges and universities can take great strides toward improving their student retention and success rates.

As higher education institutions seek to improve student enrollment and retention, it’s increasingly clear that informed engagement strategies are a crucial piece of the puzzle.

The National Survey for Student Engagement recently found that many leading institutions are prioritizing student engagement as part of their retention strategies. For these schools, engagement is a campus-wide effort, and it encompasses both faculty’s pedagogical strategies and students’ attitudes about their educational careers.

Engagement plays a major role in students’ decisions to drop-out, stop-out, transfer or remain at an institution and complete their degree. Because student engagement is ideally a holistic initiative, it takes a new approach to communications across your institutions, from well before a student’s first day to after they graduate.

How can schools refine their communication strategies to improve engagement — and ultimately, retention? There are four key steps.

1. Identify the Most Effective Ways to Communicate

What are your students’ communication preferences? Would they rather receive messages through email, texts, or phone calls? There’s no one answer for all institutions—student bodies are unique, and preferences may vary from campus to campus. To find the best approach for your school, you can monitor and analyze your institutional communications. How many students open your emails or authorize text messages? How successful are calls-to-action deployed through one channel compared to another? The answers to these questions can provide useful insights for your communications, and serve as powerful indicators of student engagement.

2. Develop a Data-Driven Communications Strategy

With data on students’ communication preferences in hand, you will have the foundations of a data-driven communications strategy, helping you to more successfully convey information that will engage students and help them succeed.

This information might include financial aid or drop/add deadlines, graduation requirements, or even notifications that students’ grades may fall below the levels required to maintain financial aid. Even before starting classes, schools can establish a relationship with students through responsive, informative communications about available programs and the admissions process. It may sound simple, but the key to keeping students engaged is engaging with them proactively, every step of the way.

3. Support Students through Institutional Communications

An institution’s communications should be student-centric, helping them succeed throughout every stage of their educational career. For this idea to be truly meaningful, you will need granular data on individual students, showing you which ones are at risk and require additional assistance.

There are many reasons students may struggle, from insufficient preparation to financial challenges. By collecting and analyzing data on students, you can understand and address these problems more effectively.

4. Use Technology Effectively

Though every student body has its own preferences when it comes to communication, it’s probably safe to say that your students are highly reliant on technology, from text messages to emails to smartphone apps and more.

The most effective institutions approach students’ tech-savviness as an opportunity, a way to engage students on their own terms. By understanding the technologies that students really use, institutions can ensure that their messages reach the right audience.

As schools refine their approaches to retention, it’s easy to see that communication lies at the heart of engagement. By communicating with students in a proactive and data-driven way, schools can help them get the help they need, solve problems in advance, and stay focused on their educational futures.

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Readers Comments

Patty Fowler 2015/09/29 at 8:53 am

There needs to be a balance between serving students in the ways they want to be served and doing things in a way that’s a efficient for the institution. Playing to your students’ preferences as a whole student body is one thing, but tailoring to each individual is often not feasible, especially at larger schools.

Kayla Martin 2015/09/29 at 2:52 pm

That’s true to an extent but I think that the more institutions are able to tailor their services as specifically as possible, the greater return they’ll see in terms of enrollment and persistence, and in the end it will be worth the extra time.

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