Five Steps To Student RetentionJohn MacDonald | Adjunct Instructor, Fox Valley Technical College
Student retention is not a new topic, and it will be a challenge for some time to come because of some behavioral challenges we have in our world. Students vary by age, reason, discipline, background, exposure and with that process the variables as to why they are in school and what there desired outcome really is. There is also the global student whose culture and definition of English might be different than you are familiar with and this understanding opens the door for trust and acceptance of you as an advisor or person working at helping them become a success. This is the first step of a multiple step process as advisors, counselors and administrators need to embrace changes within the student population and also the learning desires.
The first step is to listen and really hear what the students are saying, inquiring and reaching out for because this will set the stage for your ability to communicate. Listening in theory takes into account body language, posture, tone, length, level of detail and their questions at hand. You should always write or take notes to makes sure that you can reiterate and detail back to them to ensure complete and unabridged understanding. You must also embrace that fact that they might not be very direct and with good interactive listening skills you have the ability to hear beyond the words to the true meaning.
The second step is to talk and with that not to be over powering and more interactive. The ability to also gain trust is to make sure you both understand what is being said while moving forward progressively and to make a difference in their lives. Learning and retention are like two peas in a pod and without one you cannot have the other. Your conversations can take place in the institution, virtual world, on the phone or through Skype or email applications that allow for the flexibility and time zone issues.
The third step is to make sure you are available and accessible because there are times that students are not always on the same page, time zone or even country. This process is needed because in the distance learning applications you will spend more time away from your students but that does not mean you cannot communicate. One of the nest ways I like to communicate with my Global students is virtual emails. I tape what I would say in an email and provide them with me saying the words rather than to write them. I was attending a graduation and I had 11 students in the process. There were also 15 other advisors looking for their students. They had signs, boards and other ways to get their attention. I was just there and they found me with a warm hub and BIG SMILE. The other advisors asked how they knew me so well and they all detailed to them what I had done over the course of their academic travels. The emails that was personal in nature and not just an email. The holiday and birthday greetings and the little 2am message just to say hello. They did not need a name board because they knew me as a friend/partner in their adventure.
The fourth step is to plan in various stages. This is vital when you are address global students because their level of panning is much more important than we see in the US. In the end if you are preplanning based on the students interests, program, level of ability and balance of classes you will find more success. This comes from doing all of the above steps in this adventure of education. The balance of classes for the quarter or semester is the most important. Knowing the balance prevents loss due to withdrawal or overloaded requirements, while it also enables the ability to keep the student challenged to the point they want more. Incremental learning might sound like a tedious process but it also give you the best ROI on student retention.
The fifth and final step is to always remember that you are there for the students and not anything on a personal agenda. This is important because your focus and drivers needs to be working with the student from the initial interactions of interest till the day they walk at graduation and then remembering them after that because you just never know how that might affect you. I have a student in Australia and I worked with him for 2 years finally seeing him graduate from a different college. Then a couple of years ago I received a letter from him asking if I would be interested in a consulting position for his new company. That was a great 6 week contract but most importantly would not have been made available had my relationship not been as it was.
If you are now wondering why I detailed the above the way I did I will tell you the reason behind it? If you notice there are not specific results or statistical analysis on outcomes, interactions and those other accounting tabulations that many institutions seem to grade and utilize with their teams. This is because I focus on the processes and how I maneuvered from the initial interaction to the graduation walk.
I know that any needed results will be positive if I manage and address the processes that I use with care and consideration for being progressive and interactive with those I am working with. Retention is always talked about and there are few good examples but in the mix are those who get out of the box, work a little smarter and impact those lives they touch on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You need a dynamic and interactive person who knows no limits and wants to see the success of their team members. Yes, I said team members because in reality they are your team and as their manager, you are charged with developing, supporting and enhancing their lives through the process we know as education.
Author Perspective: Educator