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    4 Best Tips to Improve Student Retention in Higher Education

    Student retention is an important part of a higher education marketing plan. Here are 4 tips to keep your institution's students engaged.
    Last updated:
    December 13, 2023

    We are living in unprecedented and uncertain times, with many challenges making their way towards us. One of the most affected sectors is education, where schools and colleges were pushed hard to innovate and become tech-savvy in a matter of days.

    With schools and campuses staying shut while providing online/hybrid classes, the students are getting restless and finding the new normal ineffective.

    The decrease in face-to-face interaction has students rethinking their choices to move ahead in the academic path. No physical classes mean no peer interactions, social experiences, or networking opportunities that translate into career prospects.

    This has made administrators focus more on student retention (80%) compared to bringing new enrolments (48%).

    The old ways to retain students won’t be as effective since we are facing new challenges, and if our problems are advancing, so should our solutions.

    Hence, in this article, we are going to provide some contemporary and technology-backed tips and ways to improve the student retention rate.

    1. Predictive and prescriptive analytics for better student engagement and retention

    Schools and institutes have mines of data that remain untapped unless they invest in the proper data management system and analytics. This abundance of student data can be translated into insights about their behaviour and will even help you identify at-risk students based on their past attendance, discipline, approach, and more.

    Many schools are investing in cloud systems to better manage their data and use it to engage with their students and empower their faculty with the right insights.

    The actual power of data can be realised with the right tools that allow integration of multiple data sources and the application of predictive and prescriptive methods.

    Once your administration is able to harness the disruptive power of data, you will connect with your students in a more effective and personalised manner.

    An approach that is data-driven, proactive, and well-timed can directly lead to better student retention rates.

    Related: How Predictive Analytics Can Boost Student Success Rates

    2. Chatbots for student retention

    Apart from the common measures that schools take to retain their students like forming learning communities, appointing more counselors, etc., they are turning to technology to improve their student retention rate.

    Schools and universities are deploying chatbots to provide real-time solutions to their students’ problems which in turn is improving students’ satisfaction, their sense of belongingness, and their confidence in themselves.

    What’s so novel about schools intervening with students’ problems, is that with the help of technology, now they are able to do it at scale.

    EdSights - a research-backed chatbot that engages with students and helps them over SMS. They claim to increase over 12% retention rate.

    Here’s what Dr. Terry, VP of Enrollment, Bethel University, has to say about EdSights, “After 3 years of declining retention rates, we on-boarded EdSights and finally saw a 4 percentage point gain in fall 2019 to spring 2020 retention.

    We are now ramping up our services with EdSights because we saw their commitment to our success and witnessed first hand the efficacy of their technology".

    This technology is not only helping schools and universities to improve their retention rate, but it is also highly liked by the students with 85% of them speaking in favor of it.

    Related: How universities are using chatbots to improve the student admissions process

    3. Mandate full attendance for freshman

    Students need structure especially the ones transitioning from middle school to high school. Once they are off track with their studies even for a week they become at-risk students who can be thinking of giving up or dropping out.

    Ask your department heads to report students who miss two or more classes in succession to the retention team so they can get in touch with those students to understand the underlying issues. This will not only provide students who are at-risk with personal attention but will also turn them into school promoters.

    Focus on providing a sense of belonging to your students when they start their freshmen. One of the principal reasons for students either dropping out or changing schools is the lack of proper integration during their freshman year.

    Create small communities within the campus for your students to explore and find their tribe and safe space. Students who are active on campus participating, interacting with faculty, and using school resources are less likely to change schools or drop out.

    4. Use digital forums to provide support

    Providing support to students is not a novel idea -- it’s as old as the mountains. How you provide it these days is where the innovation lies.

    With social media becoming the mainstream communication tool, especially for students, educators had to hop this train as well.

    They are now using these platforms to create a community for their students to share their opinions, ask questions, and even take part in discussions with their fellow peers.

    This definitely gives a boost to student engagement and also gives a chance to students who might feel shy otherwise present their views in class discussions. Additionally, female students speak up 9 times more online than they would face-to-face.

    One other way to go about providing an online support platform to your students is by integrating a discussion forum module into your website that caters to the unique needs of your students.

    Apart from the platform being exclusive to your school, you can also use it as a marketing tool to improve your school/institute’s search engine rankings with proper consultation from an SEO agency.

    It’s always better to ask than to assume.

    The same applies to your students as well. To find the causes of students switching or leaving your school, why not go to the source itself and ask for the reasons.

    Asking students directly will give you more clarity about the reasons and will help you form more effective and better-targeted retention strategies. 

    Also, make sure it’s a closed-loop feedback system - the keyword being closed-loop. Don’t just collect feedback - have teams in place to take care of the emotional, social, psychological, or financial issues that students face.

    To conclude,

    Technology is like that new kid on the block who is smarter and equipped with better and more powerful tools like social media, chatbots, data, and more. The best strategy would be to make best friends with them and try to learn new tricks to deal with the ever-evolving retention issues that take root into sociological, economical, and even psychological problems that students deal with on the regular basis.



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    Tim Ferguson

    Tim Ferguson is a writer and editor of Marketing Digest. He helps SEO agencies with link building, content marketing, online reputation management, and blogger outreach. When he is not writing and editing for Marketing Digest, he spends time learning more about content marketing and getting better at it.

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