In a recent survey, Blackboard asked presidents, technology leaders and faculty what the biggest challenges facing higher education are today, and all three groups listed student retention as the greatest challenge.

Everyone on campus wants to help the students reach their desired outcomes, but without a coordinated campus-wide effort, student retention strategies can become disjointed and ineffective. Different student retention theories presented by various administrative departments on campus can lead to duplicate retention programming or misidentification of students who need assistance. A coordinated effort leads to solid fact-based decision making that improves student retention and graduation rates. As Linda Baer and John Campbell write in Game Changers, “Leaders need to create an institutional culture to use analytic tools to maximize the potential for improved student access, student learning, progression and success.”

However, simply saying a campus is committed to student success and retention isn’t enough – there needs to be a campus-wide effort. Everyone on campus from the president all the way down to the students needs to be involved in the necessary culture change. This may seem difficult to achieve, but many schools that have adapted these practices are already seeing great results.

Campus-Wide Student Retention Strategies in Practice at Paul Smith’s College

Take Paul Smith’s College, for example. Former professor and registrar Dr. Loralyn Taylor learned first hand that a three-person retention office wasn’t enough to improve the school’s low student retention rate of 60 percent. Even after employing numerous committees and hiring a director of retention, they saw no significant improvements.

With the help of her colleagues, Dr. Taylor sought out a technology solution designed to unite a campus-wide effort. As a former professor, she knew getting faculty members on board might be the most challenging sell. “When you talk retention to a faculty member, what they hear is ‘you want me to lower my standards in class to keep someone here that does not belong here.’ And that is very difficult to overcome,” she says. So, Paul Smith’s decided to change the language – rather than focusing on keeping students from failing, they emphasized the need to help students succeed.

“Language is important. We no longer talk about ‘high failure rate classes,’ because that gets the faculty defensive,” Dr. Taylor explains. “When we shift that conversation to ‘how can we help your students learn more and be more successful in your course so that they are more successful in their next course…you are going to automatically get faculty on board with that. That’s what they want. They want their students to perform better.”

So, what kind of results have they seen? Well, since changing the language surrounding their approach and involving the entire campus in the quest for student success, Paul Smith’s College has seen as much as a 12.5 percent increase in their retention rate. Dr. Taylor stresses that this success wouldn’t have occurred with just a few dedicated people – it took a campus-wide change in culture.

For more tips on how to create a culture of student success and implementing student retention strategies at your institution, check out our free eBook: The Secret to Student Success.

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