Four metrics to help your school identify at-risk students and get them back on track

Four metrics to help your school identify at-risk students and get them back on track

Four metrics to help your school identify at-risk students and get them back on track

The first rule of student retention: You can’t help a student if you don’t know they’re at risk. 

Once you determine that a student is at risk of dropping out, you must intervene as quickly as possible to prevent them from falling too far behind. But students can be at risk for many different reasons—from attendance to grades—and what happens when staff doesn’t have access to the data they need to understand the situation?

Here are four critical areas that your school should examine to identify at-risk students and get them back on track before it’s too late. 

1. Using attendance to identify at-risk students

The first metric any administrator should examine is how much of the program the student has missed—consecutively and throughout the program. 

If a student misses 14-days in a row, your school has no choice but to drop them to remain compliant with Title IV and the Department of Education. While consecutive absences are a red flag to administrators, frequent, non-consecutive absences can significantly impact a student’s ability to complete their program. Frequent absences can impact grades, hours, and other SAP factors. 

Some questions to consider when viewing student attendance percentage:

  • Are they so far behind they may not catch up?
  • Will the student need to repeat any classes or skills training?
  • Are they showing motivation towards graduation in other areas of the program?


See How Real-Time Attendance Data Helps Career Universities Increase Retention.

2. Using tardiness to identify at-risk students

How frequently a student is late to class impacts their attendance percentage, but it also provides surface-level indicators that beg administrators to ask the right questions.

Suppose a traditionally prompt student suddenly starts arriving late. In that case, it could indicate a life change, a family emergency, or another issue that may impact their ability to graduate. Or perhaps a student has been late every Tuesday since they started, eating into the hours they need to graduate. In both instances, understanding the student’s behavioral history can help tailor your outreach and provide them with appropriate resources and support. 

Lateness indicates a multitude of issues, but here are a few to consider:

  • Are they experiencing problems in their personal lives?
  • Do they have consistent access to transportation or child care?
  • Are they simply not engaged with their program? 


Each of these points requires further digging, but your staff can’t dig into a student’s tardiness if they don’t know it’s happening. 

3. Using engagement to identify at-risk students

A student’s last interaction with their school and program is the third critical metric to consider when determining student risk. 

To fully understand student engagement, staff must have real-time access to online or blended attendance. They can’t be left waiting for instructors to enter online attendance data several days after the absence occurs. An outreach strategy for students completing online activities but haven’t been to class for a week is very different from an outreach strategy for one who has been radio silent. 

The last date of attendance—both online and in person—is the best way for a school to know how immediate the need for intervention is. 

If a student is absent online or in person for three or more days, you may need to re-engage them with a text or a call. If the student is unreachable and continues to be absent, staff should try different channels of engagement like connecting with a peer who is friendly with the absent student, calling the student’s family, or reaching out to the student on social media. 

Your outreach strategy is influenced by how and when your students last engaged with their program. Make sure your staff has the real-time attendance information they need the moment they need it to develop an informed plan for reaching out and getting students back on track.

4. Using grades to identify at-risk students

One of the biggest red flags that a student may not complete their program is whether they’ve been able to maintain their grades and demonstrate a strong understanding of the subject matter. 

If a strong student’s grades take a sudden dip, it may reflect problems outside the classroom or difficulties with a subject matter. It’s critical to identify these drops quickly, not when instructors enter grades at the end of a module, to keep the student on track. 

Students who typically understand concepts quickly may feel disheartened when greeted with a challenging subject for the very first time. Addressing their struggles early on will help them stay on track. 

Looking at all four metrics helps your staff establish a comprehensive retention action plan. 

Read 4 Tips For Retaining Your Top Performers In Online Courses.

Combine the four metrics for a complete picture

CourseKey gives your staff a real-time view of these four critical metrics and combines them into one risk score with varying levels of severity. 

Take a look at the different risk factors in action. 

Scenario: The student has missed 10% of their program, they are late 5% of the time, their last contact was four days ago, and their overall grade hovers around 75%. 

Questions to ask yourself based on this scenario:

  • How can this student make up the 10% they missed? 
  • What is the underlying issue behind their lateness? 
  • How soon should you reach out to the student to prevent them from dropping? 
  • Analyze trends in their grades. Is there an actionable plan to improve them that still meets the student’s needs? 

Once you have answered the most critical questions arising from each metric, you can combine the information and devise a plan to get them back on track.  

Discover The Relationship Between Retention & Revenue today.

Request a demo to learn more about how CourseKey helps vocational schools across the country measure and monitor these factors to improve retention rates. 

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