Are Your Retention Tactics Proactive Or Reactive?

Student retention and graduation rates are two of the biggest indicators of a school’s success. We know that low retention and graduation rates can be harmful to a school’s reputation and can have a dramatic economic effect, but worst of all, low rates indicate that students are not completing their education, thus setting them back professionally and financially while reflecting poorly on the school’s ability to attract future students.

Proactive vs. Reactive

To raise retention and graduation rates, schools are experimenting with an array of different retention efforts. One thing to note is that almost all retention efforts in practice today are reactive initiatives. While reactive efforts seem like a logical step to handling students who appear at-risk, they don’t fully resolve the issue.  

Think of it this way: Reactive efforts are like a band-aid. They stop the bleeding and allow the wound to heal itself. An example is a student having a meeting with the advising department. Advising is a highly beneficial resource to students, but many times, students only utilize it when they feel they’re starting to slip or fall off track.

Proactive efforts, on the other hand, aim to keep the wound from even occurring in the first place. For student retention, proactive efforts keep students on track to graduate and in the best case scenario, save both the institution and student the extra time and effort spent on bringing students back up to speed.

More Frequent Touch Points

So what kind of proactive retention efforts can schools implement to increase retention and graduation rates? One method that has proven successful is establishing more frequent touch points with students. Studies show that more frequent interaction between students and school faculty/staff is an independent predictor of student persistence. More touch points with the students deter them from feeling isolated. In addition, they eliminate the notion that the best course of action for struggling students is to drop out altogether.

You might be wondering, how do institutions increase touch points with students? Traditionally, institutions would keep in touch with their students via email. Emails aren’t very effective, however, because they can easily get buried in inboxes. Often times emails from the institution contain vital information for the student regarding their academic standing or important updates, so it’s detrimental for the student to miss these emails. What’s more, students who feel less confident about their progression may become disengaged and will stop checking their school email inbox on a regular basis, increasing their chances of missing critical emails.

How To Best Reach Students

The best way to increase touch points with students is to leverage the most intimate communication device they possess: their mobile phones. These days, mobile devices are practically an extension of the human body, and are a perfect channel of communication for quick messages that won’t go unnoticed because students can read the contents of the message without even having to unlock their phones.

Ample Messaging Opportunities

There are many proactive messages institutions can push to their students. For instance, institutions can send campus wide alerts to students, including weather alerts, such as snow days, or service updates, such as delays in bus schedules. During finals week, schools can send encouraging and supportive messages, like “you’ve got this!” or to remind students how vital a good night sleep is. Schools can even send out short surveys that allow students to give feedback about their experience and know that their voice is being heard. Remember – students flourish when they feel like they’re part of an engaging learning community. 

In addition to campus-wide messages, schools can incorporate course-specific messages too. Instructors can send their students quick updates about class time, reminders for exam prep, notifications about office hours, etc.

Along with proactive messages, schools can send reactive messages to keep in contact with students. The most obvious use case is alerting students of their academic status or their attendance record, either on a daily or weekly basis. Institutions can also send congratulatory and encouraging messages to students based on their latest evaluation.

Keeping Students In The Loop

Sending students personalized notifications and messages on their phone is the fastest and most effective way to interact with the student. When presented with a mix of proactive and reactive messages, students will feel informed and supported about what is going on at their school and how they’re personally performing. Messages can be based on things like program type, progression milestones, status, course load, engagement and more. No matter what the message is, having frequent and consistent touch points from the institutions instructors, staff, or even peers is vital to keeping students on track and making them feel like part of a learning community.

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