Big ideas for student retention

Submitted by: Shannon Cross, USA Funds account executive


Student retention has become more of a hot-button issue in the last few years, and rightly so. A recent New York Times article noted that “sixty percent of people go to college these days, but . . . more than a quarter of those who start college drop out with no credential.” Helping students finish their programs of study is an important part of setting them on the right track to achieve their long-term goals, and it can even increase the likelihood that they will repay their education loans.

Complete College America, a nonprofit organization focused on increasing the number of Americans that attain post-secondary degrees and certifications, offers ideas that it refers to as “Game Changers.” Here are a few of these ideas for you to consider incorporating into your school’s retention plans:


• 15 to finish. This campaign is centered around making students aware of the benefits of taking 15 credit hours per semester to stay on track for a four-year graduation.

• Structured pathways (also known as GPS Guided Pathways to Success). The idea here is that when students select a program of study, they receive a pathway to complete that program, including which courses to take and when they should take those courses to finish on time.

• Co-requisite support. This recommendation involves putting students directly into college courses and providing co-requisite support to those students that need additional support. This may include things like additional lab or classroom time, academic support or peer mentoring.

• Block scheduling. We know that a lot of students have other commitments: life, family, work, etc. Block scheduling makes it possible for a student to take his or her courses together, making it easier to plan for life around classes.


Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a consulting firm focused on higher education enrollment management, student success and fundraising, also provides some recommendations for ways to help with student retention:

• “Intrusive” advising. Ruffalo Noel Levitz recommends that we need to get away from the notion that advising is simply course selection for a semester and make it about educational planning for the entire program; planning with the end in mind.

• Financial literacy. We need to provide ongoing financial counseling and education for students and their families. Think beyond your financial aid recipients to include appropriate interventions for all students and their families throughout the student lifecycle.

• Study the data. Each institution is unique and each incoming class is a bit different. That’s why Ruffalo Noel Levitz suggests identifying "specific needs for specific subsets of students" to target the appropriate intervention.

The most important step is to make sure you have some sort of actionable student retention plan that involves many different departments and takes your unique institution’s needs into consideration. Your school’s plan should also be measureable, so you can analyze what is working and make changes as appropriate.