In our travels as consultants for higher educational student success initiatives, Rachel and I come across many ineffective trends in retention models. Our hope is that by sharing what we overcome during our consultations, we will save other colleges and universities from experiencing similar set-backs with their retention efforts.
For this blog, we will focus on a common flaw in how retention systems are often modeled in regard to initiating an alert. Traditionally, student retention systems involve a process where faculty members, and occasionally staff members, originate an alert on behalf of a student. The content of the alert is usually concerned with how the student is doing in a specific course. What we find as an issue with this particular part of a traditional model is that the pool of faculty and staff expected to raise alerts is too limited. Only allowing faculty and staff to originate an alert is too limited. Additionally, only alerting students that are doing poorly in a course is also too limited. We believe that if a retention system intends to truly be an effective tool, it should allow more people to raise alerts and alerts should reach out to all students. This broadening of participation should be executed without adding to the level of maintenance.
Let’s discuss how these limitations in a traditional model causes issues for retention efforts. By waiting for a professor to raise an alert, the institution misses out on retention opportunities in three main arenas. First, students face a myriad barriers to higher education long before they are seated in an actual classroom. These barriers are not just for first time students but also at the beginning of every semester. Endless factors stack up against students like transportation, funding, coping with being away from home, career decisions, schedules, etc. We miss the opportunity to assist students with overcoming these barriers when we wait for the student to be in a class to raise an alert.
Second, professors are not always able to log into yet another system and spend substantial time gathering all of the information about a student in order to complete an alert. Much of the information a professor needs to put in the hands of the student is simply that the professor cares about their success and that there are resources available for the student. Professors, and everyone else for that matter, are often unable to keep up with the constant change in how, when, and to whom a college resource is offered.
Thirdly, retaining students should be an effort that focuses on all students, not just those at risk. Additionally, the process should allow all persons in the student’s life to reach out to the student. Parents, counselors, community members, roommates, coaches, etc should be able to raise an alert for a student in need. Connecting all students to resources easily should be the goal of any retention model. Students with high GPAs should be connected with honors programs, students who are athletes should be aware of the locations and offerings at all academic assistance centers, students who have mastered the college transition should be connected with opportunities to mentor their fellow students. Retention should be viewed as an issue that all students face.
If your retention model has fallen victim to this pitfall, look for ways to remedy the processes. If you are in the process for considering a retention system, avoid systems that are unable to include all students and all people in the student’ life in the process. Avoid systems that will not be successful if your college is unable to inspire every faculty and or staff member to use the system. And finally, look for systems that allow alerts to be raised anytime during the student’s experience, not just once they are in class.