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Three Steps to Improving Student Persistence through High-Touch Strategies

Three Steps to Improving Student Persistence through High-Touch Strategies
High-touch student services across the institution could be the silver bullet for institutional leaders looking to improve their retention and graduation rates.
Keeping students on track to graduation is a key strategic performance metric for postsecondary institutions, and as many of us know, persistence is not easily achieved under the best circumstances. Further, many institutions are seeking a marginal change that will ensure graduation rates of 50 percent or more. Applying one-to-one, high-touch interaction to student relationships is arguably the straightest path to earning persistence points, but it’s also the most labor intensive. Fortunately, there are steps your institution can take to get on a persistence path without over-straining academic or business operations. Instead, rather than increasing student contact (not a bad thing) the steps below help deepen the conversation you and your colleagues are having with students (a better thing).

1. Identifying Causes (Not Symptoms) of Student Drops

Typically, a list of reasons for student drops is comprised of variations on the themes of financial, academic and personal issues. The reasons may well be exactly as stated, but often they’re simply symptoms of larger issues the institution has some control over.

It could be that the financial issue — for example, meeting the aggregate loan limit prior to graduation — is a function of multiple school attempts or repeated classes. The academic issue might actually be indication of student disengagement rather than lack of ability. The personal issue (work schedule, family concern, health challenge) may be only a temporary impediment, but a reason given because the student prefers not to voice a need for encouragement.

Acting on the true causes of drops will change the conversation we have with students in the areas of student service, instructional delivery, customer service and financial aid packaging — all of which impact persistence.

2. Digging into Data

Knowing the drivers behind traditional retention equations can also introduce new conversation and initiatives. For example, discovering at which point in their program most students drop, or identifying the courses that are the “killer courses” students fail most often (and their respective teachers). Another thing to look out for is the drop rate for students who register relatively early in the enrollment cycle compared to those who register later.

Once institutional leaders commit to fully understanding the behavior around drops in the context of academic and enrollment operations, it will become easier for the institution to adjust their operations to benefit students. These adjustments include weekly (if not daily) staffing decisions, tutoring schedules, business process, student contact strategies and accountabilities.

3. Creating a System-Wide Persistence Culture

Persistence is everyone’s business and should be top of mind from the first enrollment meeting — when student obstacles are initially discussed and addressed — until graduation.

Integrating academics, enrollment, student support services and business processes is the most challenging step of all because it requires strong leadership that breaks down communication or personality silos and focuses all teams on seamless customer service. Colleagues throughout the organization must be invested in the student journey, and together foster a culture that seeks comprehensive, cross-departmental solutions to student challenges.

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