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    3 factors that contribute to higher student retention rates in universities

    Retaining students once they’re on campus can be challenging - these 3 factors can contribute to higher student retention rates in universities.
    Last updated:
    February 15, 2024

    Every year universities work hard to attract new students in an increasingly competitive marketplace. 2019-20 has seen admissions departments go the extra mile to come up with creative ways of fulfilling their student recruitment needs despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic

    Image by You X Ventures.

    Retaining students once they’re on campus can be equally as challenging, which is why it’s critical that higher education institutions have clearly defined student retention strategies at their fingertips. With the new challenges posed by COVID-19, now is a good time to re-evaluate what works. 

    How many students drop out of university?

    We don’t have access to student drop out rates for the 2018-19 academic year yet, and who knows what 2019-20 will look like. But what we do know is that the number of students dropping out of university is on the rise - in the UK and many other countries. 

    According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 7.6 per cent of full-time first degree entrants at English HEIs were no longer in HE the following year, while 6.3 per cent of students who were younger than 21 at entry were no longer in HE the following year.

    What contributes to high drop-out rates? 

    Students drop out for a number of reasons. Financial issues, no access to counselling and a lack of engagement are often cited among the top reasons. 

    In Denmark, the university drop out rate rose from 29 per cent in 2013 to 36 per cent in 2018. Lederne, the Danish Association of Managers and Executives, reports that this could be due to poor matchmaking between students and universities and has recommended five pathways that the government and universities can adopt to address the issue. 

    Building bridges between universities and working life early in courses, primarily by introducing periods of work experience during bachelor degree programmes, is one of the key measures suggested by Lederne.

    When it comes to student retention more generally, universities should consider the following factors.

    1. Focusing on entrepreneurship skills  

    Echoing some of Lederne’s thoughts, “Creativity as a desirable graduate attribute: Implications for curriculum design and employability” makes for an interesting read

    The paper explores the idea that developing creativity and innovation skills in university is beneficial for students in the sense that it helps them build their confidence, self-efficacy and leadership abilities, preparing them for success in the modern workplace.

    All higher education institutions should seek to create a learning environment that is set up for entrepreneurship by nurturing skills such as networking and negotiation as well as the academic. Career centres and extra-curricular workshops can provide the ideal context for this type of learning.

    2. Optimise online learning 

    To maintain access to learning and keep engagement levels high during the pandemic, universities across the globe have transitioned teaching to the online environment. Prior to this, many universities were already adopting online learning in a bid to offer courses in a more flexible format.

    Moving certain modules online may provide challenges, especially for institutions that don’t already have a versatile system in place. Moving forward, programme creators should work very closely with university IT departments to make content readily available in an online format.  

    In April 2020 FULL FABRIC ran a webinar with a panel of higher education professionals. Among other things, it focused on how universities can optimise the online learning experience. We asked the panellists to share their experience of having to move content online quickly to ensure students remained engaged and on track with their learning. 

    Associate Dean of Degree Programmes and Edtech Lab Director, Nick Barniville of ESMT Berlin explained his institution is moving to a structured rebuild of courses. 

    His team will be looking at the mechanics of online engagement (such as breaking down content into more digestible chunks) and rebuilding their strategy accordingly. The school has also implemented a "corona credits" system that students can use to attend face-to-face sessions when the social distancing measures allow.  

    Rennes School of Business was able to switch to online learning quickly and were the first in France to do so.  Dean Global School, Santiago Garcia, explains that they are taking a proactive approach to mitigating the challenges posed by coronavirus and are exploring “twinning delivery” where students attend in-person classes on a rota basis. 

    3. Centralise data management

    Good data management is a crucial part of student retention, however this can pose a challenge if data is stored across disparate systems. Systems should be integrated to make data readily available for university staff when they need it. 

    In looking at data, staff can identify students who are at risk of dropping out and intervene early on. Poor or erratic attendance, missed deadlines and university services usage levels are all areas that can be tracked. 

    Managing data is much easier with a CRM for higher education

    FULL FABRIC’s “Core” solution makes it easy for facilitators to create course schedules, track attendance and assignments, manage grades and issue transcripts. The solution comes with a student portal, allowing individuals to access their schedule and course materials to keep them engaged and on track to succeed.

    To find out more about how FULL FABRIC can help you attract and retain students in the 2020-21 academic year, request a demo or get in touch.


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    Kate Tattersfield

    Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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