Despite it being common knowledge that a university degree has a significant impact on student’s earning potential and career growth, only 39% of American adults have a four-year college degree, a statistic that has barely changed in the past ten years.
With the average income in the United States in 2016 landing on $54K for people with little to no college education and $90K for those with a bachelor's degree, degree attainment is an area that requires attention from institutions and education technology companies to help increase success rates.
Over the years, countless companies have invested in and tried to crack the code on how to improve student outcomes. However, Andy Clark – a Specialist Leader with Deloitte Consulting LLP – took a different approach when he tackled this topic in his dissertation "College Student Success: Using Predictive Modeling and Actionable Intelligence with a Faculty-Centered Information Portal to Improve Student Academic Performance."
Clark sought to find commonalities within different data sets and used human touch-points to engage students. These ranged from instant message reminders about upcoming tests, to proactive outreach by advisors, therefore engaging students and paving a path to success over time.
Clark's findings, and Deloitte's paper "Five essential principles for improving student outcomes," point to 5 key guiding points for building a student success and retention initiative:
1. Get institutional buy-in
In order to be successful, a student retention initiative must get buy-in from faculty departments and colleges. The initiatives need to become a core component of the institution's mission, and this has to be reflected in their long-term funding plans. Even the best-planned retention initiative will go nowhere without institutional support.
2. Walk the walk
It's easy to think about the issue of student retention in the abstract, but in order to truly solve the issue, we must take real. For an initiative to be successful, the staff required to put the findings into action should be included from the planning phase. Waiting too long to involve them can lead to skepticism and resistance later on.
3. Go beyond
Much like Clark's study did, institutions have to go beyond just the given data and tools. To figure out where hidden opportunities for improvement lie, they should evaluate staff members' skills and strengths, closely review current processes, and understand what new technology can provide. Only after these opportunities are identified should the institution think about creating the right tools to engage with students.
4. Keep it personal
Technology is tremendously helpful in creating new ways to interact with students, but it's critical not to lose the human side of things. Academic advisors, career counselors, and tutors all play a central role in student’s academic success. In fact, it might be worth considering centralizing the advisor role to work across all departments.
5. Quality matters
Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for faculty to raise concerns on student success and retention initiatives, suggesting that they will reduce overall quality and negatively impact rankings. However, as long as institutions maintain high admissions standards, initiatives to improve student outcomes will only strengthen the institution's overall academic performance.