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Student Retention Logic – Part 1

Teaching and delivery staff must think out of the box in order to deliver first-rate education that serves to keep students interest in the subject matter and, as a result, interest in remaining in the program. Photo by Kate Ter Haar.

When one thinks of retention they might not realize that it’s a process based mythology rather than a results based influencer.  In detailing the approach I have a tendency to look at the theory and process flow versus what management’s perception and influence might be. That being said, the model most apparent to the operation is the process approach model. This is in part because there is always the drive to connect activities, resources and the students into a system that achieves that goals and expectations of all of the stakeholders involved.

The area that I selected is employee retention and engagement because of all of the focus on the budget, resources and allocations and also changing market demands. I feel that the ability to interact and motivate the team is essential for the success of the organization. This becomes a vital part of student interactions and the ability to retain students far beyond the first year. The needs of the university is to have a highly flexible and changeable course offering that is state of the art in fundamentals and provides real life applications to the area in question. These needs will help to develop the student base and help business both local and global to have trained individuals ready, willing and able to tackle the diverse and complicated challenges they might face in the working environment.

The teaching and delivery staff must understand this desired outcome and look outside of the box. Too many times the focus is personal and not driven as the results and thus the student fails to receive all of the knowledge and expertise that the instructor holds. There are also inherent risk factors, including loss of employment, inability to get the new program or coursework approved and accredited, and with that the licensing requirements that might be put in place when changes are made to the current offerings. The ability to understand the motivational factors involved with retention and also why students fail is a key component to those trying to make a difference, mainly administrators who might not be completely in touch with reality.

There are many assumptions made when developing these theories and course offerings and what the students’ perception of the process actually is. In some cases universities have found statistically that their retention rate 25-45% depending on the program and university is acceptable to the university because they have more students coming into the program and feel that the one’s being retained are the cream of the crop. The assumption is that universities will continuously change without the merit or basis for change that drives the compartmentalization of the process itself. The culture has to change in the organization in order to be able to fully realize this goal.

The next step the organization needs is to take leadership and the influencers with cooperation of the delivery team and develop implementation strategies that will incorporate this new material, enhance current course offerings and then looking more longer term have in place alterations that will allow progressive and participatory engagement of the stakeholder group. Getting their input, collaboration and thought mythology you will have that invested pride that is seen in many staff members. Harnessing this pride into a strategy, given the assumptions and influencing factors that are present and in the environment to be able to coordinate the course offerings is the starting point for change.

This connection that needs to be developed and built relies on a small number of individuals who are interactive with the students, and again this is a statistically challenged number based on the analysis that students need to feel empower and that their being there is important to the university as it is to their own personal goals. We talk about universities having limited resources but academic and personal advising is so vital and the need to see the bigger picture and know where the path is helps the students to define their goals in completion of the process.

Working as a team and having the level of interaction is also a key component as one of the main failures points is lack of communication between the advisors and the students within the first year is 64%. Why is this, well again it’s a resource verses utilization process that a cultural and behavioral change is needed in order to increase their retention. There is also a 75% result in loss of true appreciation for the student by the university due to the focus changing from a new student to a returning student. This again is skewed due to the culture and behavior of the university and their respective management structures that affect these statistics.

For a more detailed breakdown of the results of a logic survey conducted in 2010 looking into operations that are challenged opposed to those who embrace change, please check back next week for the second part of this two-article series.