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Improving Student Retention in Higher Education: Addressing the Challenges

Improving Student Retention in Higher Education

Student retention refers to the ability of a school, college, or university to keep its students enrolled and engaged in their studies until they complete their educational program. The student retention rate is calculated by counting how many students re-enroll from one academic year to the next, and improving this retention rate is a critical issue for colleges and universities.

Schools can help their retention rate by proactively identifying and addressing early indications that a student is struggling in their academic path and employing a call center like AnswerNet to help. While students leave school for a variety of reasons, timely intervention and support can significantly mitigate these challenges.

The Importance of Early Intervention

Despite the investment in student success and wellness, many educational institutions face a common, yet solvable, disconnect. In our partnerships with schools, AnswerNet has discovered that while there is some awareness of the circumstances that cause students to disengage, there often isn’t an established process for early intervention.

The Solution

The good news is that a simple and efficient approach already exists for improving student retention in schools. Administrators can start by identifying key indicators such as a drop in attendance, incomplete projects, missed exams, and dwindling communication with educators.

However, while it’s important to leverage this data for timely outreach, AnswerNet has found that what worked in the past might not always be effective in the future. Administrators must therefore actively connect with students, understand what’s happening in their lives, and create a game plan that current students can fully engage with. This means successful student retention efforts require omni-channel adaptability, individualized messaging, and the ability to escalate issues to leadership for more nuanced decision-making.

By identifying common risk factors and implementing action plans supported by documentation, colleges, universities, and their BPO/contact center partners can create a framework for successful interventions. Internal staff and external partners can also develop soft skills that will help them understand the reasons behind student disengagement. These same skills can then be used to offer guidance to struggling students.


Addressing Key Areas of Concern

A call center can contact at-risk students on behalf of schools and assist them through the re-enrollment process. Agents can proactively reach out to underperforming students at key intervals with mid-course adjustments, offer helpful advice, provide compassionate support, and facilitate tutoring referrals for students who are struggling academically.

AnswerNet works works with higher education clients to address core issues, such as:

  • Working to Pay for School: Many students work to finance their education. In 2020, about 74% of part-time undergraduate students and 40% of full-time students in the U.S. were employed. Solutions include university work-study programs, campus job boards, and coaching with counselors on negotiating work and study schedules.
  • Personal or Family Crisis: Offering support during these times is crucial for retention.
  • Health or Mental Health Challenges: Providing access to health services and support is essential. In a recent report from TimelyMD, 1,600 students between the ages of 18 and 29 were asked to assess the current state of mental health on their campuses. Of those polled, 88% said they believe there’s a mental health crisis on campuses nationwide! 
  • Struggling with Coursework: Academic support and resources are necessary for students who find their coursework challenging. There are many steps you can take. 

Commitment to Continuous Improvement

This list is not exhaustive. To improve their student retention rate, schools might consider additional strategies, such as peer mentoring programs, financial management resources, career counseling, and cultural inclusivity programs. If we’re dedicated to academic success and student retention in schools, we must all commit to ongoing review and revision of our best practices. 

For more information and to request a quote from AnswerNet Education Services, click here.