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Student Success

Engage Students to Improve Retention

Improving retention rates requires colleges to look at the whole student experience and understand what students want to get out of college beyond their degree.

According to a report by the Education Policy Institute, stopped-out and dropped-out students cost the higher education industry at least 16.5 billion dollars in lost revenue each year. Colleges can retain many students by filling funding gaps with additional aid, but for other students, funding isn’t the biggest factor in their decision to leave.

Students are more likely to drop out when they feel disconnected from their school and their peers—41.2% of students who left the University of Washington cited “feeling socially alone” as a reason for leaving. When students feel a sense of belonging, they’re more likely to stay enrolled and become engaged alumni. It's likely that colleges can boost their retention rates just by making sure students feel welcome in the community.


Create a Mission-Driven Experience

Colleges use their mission statements to guide important financial decisions and keep themselves accountable to their core values. Students can use a school’s mission statement to choose a school whose goals align with their own personal values, such as serving others, exercising leadership, or practicing a particular religious tradition.

But incorporating a college's broader mission into its day-to-day practices isn't always easy. D’Youville College created the Roche Center for Mission Integration with a full-time staff dedicated to incorporating D’Youville’s mission into all aspects of student life. The Roche Center has put the mission into action by creating virtual spiritual wellness resources for students and running a food drive to support the greater Buffalo community.


Build a Culture of Engagement

College is an opportunity for students to improve their employment prospects, but, for most, it’s also a chance to learn and build relationships. Not only are friendships important for students’ sense of belonging, research shows that students’ social circles can also impact their academic success. Most colleges have established traditions, extracurricular activities, and on-campus living to create an institutional identity and build community.

It’s important to welcome students from the very beginning—freshman orientation is students’ introduction to the community and sets the tone for their time in college. Rockhurst University builds community from the get-go with a mandatory weekend of activities to set students up for academic and emotional success. Upperclassmen lead small groups of students through the activities—some teambuilding, some educational—so that freshmen have a chance to get to know their peers and set themselves up for a fulfilling, successful college experience.


Offer a Range of Programming Types

For many students, a one-size-fits all education isn’t as effective or engaging as an education that’s tailored to their interests and abilities. If possible, along with large lectures, colleges should give students the opportunity to take some smaller classes in which they can get to know their professors and work closely with their peers. For students who want hands-on experience with subjects that most interest them, college career centers can help them find internships and research positions.

Houston Baptist University (HBU) helps students succeed academically by assigning each student a full-time academic advisor from day one. The advisors help students navigate course selection and stay on track to graduate. When students are struggling, they can turn to their advisor for help and support. Advisors help hold students accountable and assure them that HBU cares about their academic success.


Improving retention rates requires colleges to look at the whole student experience and understand what students want to get out of college, beyond their degree. By providing opportunities for students to build connections and develop their interests, colleges help students engage and integrate their school's identity into their personal identity.

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