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Student Retention: A Lifecycle Approach

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Higher education institutions invest heavily in attracting students, and rightfully so! As we’ve witnessed the implications of the enrollment cliff (ahead of schedule, may we add), universities are competing for students more now than they ever have.

Of course, it’s crucial to drive applications and enrollment—but it doesn’t stop there. Especially if you want to see your investment through. Too many universities are losing focus on student retention, even though it’s a critical factor in their success. This gap often results in high dropout rates and missed opportunities for nurturing long-term relationships.

It’s not just about getting students through the door; it’s about making sure they stay engaged, feel supported, and ultimately graduate to become productive (and generous!) alumni. It’s time for universities to explore how to optimize their marketing strategies to support students throughout their entire lifecycle, from enrollment to graduation and beyond.

The Current Challenge: Siloed Efforts and Missed Opportunities

One of the primary issues facing universities today is the siloed nature of their operations. Different departments often operate independently, focusing solely on their specific roles without a coordinated effort to oversee the student’s entire journey. Admissions teams are focused on enrollment, academic departments on education, and student services on well-being. This lack of continuity can lead to students feeling unsupported and disconnected, increasing the likelihood of attrition.

Continuity of Care: The Key to Student Retention

To effectively retain students, universities must adopt a “continuity of care” approach. Continuity of care means providing consistent and coordinated support throughout a student’s academic journey. Here are some strategies to achieve this:

Create a Unified Support System

Establish a dedicated team or office responsible for overseeing the entire student journey, like a student success group. This team should work collaboratively with all departments to ensure seamless support from enrollment to graduation. This could also live under enrollment, which is initiating the student journey and has a vested interest in retention efforts.

Personalize the Student Experience

Use data-driven insights to understand individual student needs and tailor support accordingly. For example, a university could pull data to identify first-generation students to make sure that they’re fully supported during and after the admissions process. Personalized communication, academic advising, and career counseling can significantly enhance student satisfaction and retention.

Enhance Engagement Through Regular Communication

Maintain regular contact with students through various channels like email, social media, and mobile apps. Provide updates on academic progress, upcoming events, and available resources to keep students informed and engaged. You should be coordinating across departments to conduct communication audits to ensure there aren’t gaps, redundancies, or oversaturation of messaging.

Develop Strong Academic and Social Support Networks

Encourage peer mentoring programs, study groups, and student organizations. These networks provide valuable support systems that help students navigate challenges and build a sense of community. How often are your students hearing from their advisors? Can they check in on a more regular cadence?

Offer Flexible Learning Options

Provide options for online, hybrid, and part-time learning to accommodate different student needs. Flexibility can help accommodate students who might otherwise leave due to personal or professional commitments. Asynchronous learning can also be extremely beneficial for students who need to go at their own pace.

Monitor and Address Early Warning Signs

Implement early alert systems to identify students at risk of dropping out. Proactively reach out to these students with targeted interventions to address their concerns and provide necessary support. You can use an automated survey to gauge student well-being and identify the root cause behind why a student is considering withdrawing. From there, you can put the resources in place to offer support, like financial aid, mental health counseling, campus food pantries, etc.

Optimizing the Student Journey: A Continuous Effort

Retention efforts don’t end at graduation. Alumni engagement is an often-overlooked aspect of the student lifecycle that can provide valuable opportunities for re-enrollment in advanced programs, as well as for fostering a network of advocates and donors for the institution. Engaging your alumni can help establish a cycle of lifelong engagement and support, maximizing your investment over time.

Mighty Citizen Can Help

Student retention is a challenge that requires a comprehensive, lifecycle-oriented approach. By breaking down silos and fostering continuity of care, universities can create an environment where students feel supported and valued throughout their entire academic journey. Our experts can help you build the right strategies that will improve retention rates while building a vibrant, engaged, and successful student community. Interested in partnering? Reach out—we’d love to chat.

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