We live in the Information Age where data is easily collected, analyzed, and interpreted. Fitness, entertainment, retail and many other industries are successfully predicting what their customers and consumers want while also determining the demand for their products. For many, this allows for better decision-making and more substantial results.

Data-driven decision making and analytics can, and should, extend to higher education. Even though nearly all institutions are collecting data on their students, programs and processes, many do not have the tools or resources in place to use that data for actionable decision making. While the data is available, it isn’t always easily accessible in consumable or meaningful ways. The key is to get access to the data and analyze what is unique to your institution in order to determine what is having the greatest effect on student retention and graduation rates.

In an attempt to understand how institutions are using data to inform their student retention strategies, we surveyed nearly 500 people (398 students and 89 administrators) from three institutional categories: four-year public, four-year private, and two-year community colleges. We wanted to know if schools were using data to make decisions about the best student success strategies for their unique student body.

Our research confirmed the obvious – the more insight schools have into who their students are, the better equipped they are to implement effective student success programming. Here are three ways your institution can begin using data effectively and better identify at-risk students, build stronger success strategies and improve student retention.

3 Tips for Using Data to Address College Retention Rates

Consider How Students Decide to Apply
Knowing what made a student decide to apply to your school in the first place can give you valuable insight into what your students are prioritizing. According to the 398 students we surveyed, the most influential factor in the application process was finding a school that had the right programs to achieve their chosen career path. Having this information in advance would allow an institution to provide the programs that ultimately provide the desired student outcomes.

Understand Incoming and Historical Student Population
What if an institution knew more about admitted students before they even arrived on campus? With this kind of awareness, a school can plan for specific programming that worked to create a positive student experience for it’s unique student population.

Understanding historical student populations, and the reasons for their successes and failures is important too. By analyzing student data from prior years, institutions can better understand the changing characteristics of their students, determine how faculty and staff demographics match (or not), and more. For many schools, this historical understanding can allow creation of student success profiles, which can define the “ideal” student for the institution, as they prioritize enrollment and retention strategies.

Know Why Students Decide to Transfer
We know when students transfer, but is it possible to know why? Our research indicated that the reasons students are transferring don’t always align with why institutions think they’re transferring. Students cited “intended to transfer from the start” and “degree programs not available” as their top reasons for leaving an institution, while administrators ranked “financial reasons” as the top reason their students left the institution. By collecting and interpreting the right data, colleges can close this gap in understanding and focus on creating student success strategies that show an understanding of what students want and need from their college experience.

If what’s driving students’ choices is unknown, it’s difficult to determine the best way to reduce transfer rates and improve retention. It’s up to the institution to determine what types of student success programs are right for it’s unique student body. Luckily, using data to gain insight into who students are can help make retention strategies more effective.

To learn more about data-driven retention programming and see the full results from our research, download our free eBook here.

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