Successful Student Retention: Three Reasons to Change Your Mind (And Your Strategy)

Attracting, retaining and graduating more students is something every college and university should be good at. If you are reading this, you want those things for your institution, right?

In this short article, we will share with you three reasons to reconsider your current retention efforts and how you can improve them.

Reason #1: Current efforts are not moving the needle.
As the old saying goes, “If you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting.”

A report out this week from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that the nation’s six-year graduation rate hasn’t budged despite all the president’s preaching, legislatures legislating and foundations financing. Fifty-four percent of students who enrolled in college for the first time in 2007 had a certificate or degree to show for it six years later, exactly the same as the previous year.

Increasing federal and state government concerns, new rules and regulations, and changes in accreditation standards are placing this problem in an even brighter spotlight.  Students and their families now have easy access to retention rates of the specific colleges and universities to which they are applying.  This is a recruitment issue that admissions officers are finding difficult to overcome.

Reason #2: You are already paying for retention efforts.
As one president told us, “Half of the money I spend on retention is wasted.  The problem is I don’t know which half!”

Your institution invests resources in a variety of programs that are fragmented across many functions and hard to measure.  Many of these efforts are not coordinated and may work at cross-purposes.  To make things worse, faculty and staff may resist these efforts as just another added burden that will go away if ignored.  In this context, committees are formed, data is gathered and meetings are held. New initiatives, pilot programs and ad campaigns come and go without changing outcomes very much.

The solution to getting better outcomes isn’t necessarily more resources.  The solution comes from innovation that leads to a more focused and systematic approach.  This requires a change in thinking that moves from problem solving to real transformational change.

Reason #3: Creating a graduation-focused culture is worth the effort.
Imagine your campus a few years from now when there has been a dramatic improvement in retention and graduation rates. What else would be different?

With increases in retention come other benefits: revenue increases, upper level classes are filled, faculty and staff morale improves, the reputation of the institution grows and, most important, more students are on the pathway to successful lives.

Improving the way your institution goes about attracting, retaining and graduating more and better students will require leadership focus, campus engagement and persistence. It will require “doing different differently” as people begin to develop and apply systems thinking to seemingly intractable problems.  Innovation can flourish when there is a clear vision of what can be achieved. Over the long term, the benefits of a truly graduation-focused culture go far beyond how many students graduate.

Let’s be clear, all these good things won’t happen over night. There is work involved and it will stretch you and your people out of your comfort zone. But, if you are willing to make a commitment as a leader, the benefits will be well worth it.

A great way to begin thinking in a new way about your retention efforts is by learning more about the RTG (Retention to Graduation) System™ that we have developed at New Campus Dynamics. Click here for free information that can help you in your role as a leader. In particular, take a look at the RTG Five Dynamics of change and the A6Q Persistence Analytics.