Five Changes Colleges Can Make Now to Reduce Student Attrition

Press Release

Five Changes Colleges Can Make Now to Reduce Student Attrition

EAB shares recommendations from new “Student Success Playbook”

Washington, DC, Jan. 21, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Education firm EAB has identified critical changes institutions of higher learning need to adopt to help more students stay in school and graduate. Nearly one-third of students drop out of college, on average, before beginning their second year, and schools can no longer afford the corresponding loss of tuition revenue. With the population of college-bound high school students about to enter a steep decline, it’s time for colleges and universities to embrace the “business case” for student success. 

“Schools often fear that improving graduation rates will require massive, expensive, and disruptive institutional changes,” said EAB Managing Director Ed Venit. “While transformative change may still be necessary, EAB is suggesting a number of surprisingly practical strategies schools can execute quickly to make meaningful improvements.”

Below are five recommendations, culled from a list of fourteen highlighted in EAB’s new “Student Success Playbook,” that schools can implement now to support and graduate more students. 

1. Remove registration obstacles

Colleges and universities should start by auditing their registration processes to remove or mitigate logistical and financial barriers that prevent students from reenrolling. Renewal businesses such as health clubs or insurance companies, for example, go out of their way to streamline the renewal process, making it easier for clients to continue doing business with them. Schools would be wise to adopt a similar mindset by reexamining the strategy of using bursar holds to compel students to pay small balances, complete paperwork, or carry out other administrative tasks before they can register. These barriers unintentionally deter reenrollment, especially for first-generation students who are unfamiliar with higher education policies. Schools should also consider raising the threshold amount that triggers a financial hold and establish emergency microgrant programs to help qualified students pay off small balances.

“While students should be expected to pay their bills, it makes little financial sense to let a balance of a few hundred dollars prevent a student from achieving a degree and an institution from collecting several thousand dollars in tuition revenue,” Venit added.

2. Send a personal note to students who haven’t registered

In the summer of 2017, an academic advising leader at Kennesaw State University sent a short, personal email to students who already should have registered for the next semester and asked if there was anything he could do to help. His email generated more than 1,100 responses revealing that many students failed to register in the face of relatively minor personal, financial, or administrative obstacles. The university mobilized personnel and resources to assist these students leading to a 3.4 percent increase in reenrollment that yielded $2M in additional net tuition revenue for the next semester.

3. Provide structured early guidance that builds momentum toward a degree

The data on student completion argue strongly in favor of encouraging students to take enough credits each year to graduate in four years, and then provide additional advising and catch-up options for students who must take a lighter course load. EAB recommends that schools promote “15 to Finish” or similar campaigns, and also consider requiring all incoming first-year students to declare a major, or at least a meta-major. Meta-majors are one of the best ways to streamline academic planning, reduce the burden on advisors, and provide students with a productive framework through which to explore a broad academic area of interest. Meta-majors and guided pathways can also help reduce the cost and time students spend on classes they don’t need.

4. Leverage technology to enable a more proactive approach to student advising

Since individual advisors at many schools are responsible for more than 1,000 students, it is unrealistic to expect them to meet with every student under their purview. Effective advising offices use technology to identify and contact students who are showing early indications that they are struggling and might drop out. This proactivity, often missing from advising, engages students who most need assistance and helps keep them on track. 

5. Expand pre-enrollment programs to foster a sense of confidence and belonging

Many students struggle to make the transition to college life. Colleges should tackle this problem head on by expanding and rebranding summer pre-enrollment programs to offer training designed to build social confidence or an understanding of when or how to ask for help. Such programs are an excellent way to introduce students to the support services available on campus, which in turn fosters help-seeking behavior when the semester begins. Summer programs can also be a useful way for incoming students to build connections to peers and faculty and promote a sense of belonging and personal support.

“Even students who did well in high school can doubt their ability to complete college-level work,” said EAB Senior Director, Strategic Research, David Bevevino. “Add that to student concerns about fitting in, especially for underrepresented students, and it’s clear institutions need to do more to ease the transition to college life.”

EAB has bundled these and a wider set of recommendations together into a new “Student Success Playbook.” The Playbook distills insight, data analysis, and guidance that EAB researchers have gathered through our work helping student success leaders at more than 550 colleges and universities improve retention and graduation rates over the past decade.

About EAB

At EAB, our mission is to make education smarter and our communities stronger. We harness the collective power of more than 1,700 schools, colleges, and universities to uncover and apply proven practices and transformative insights. And since complex problems require multifaceted solutions, we work with each school differently to apply these insights through a customized blend of research, technology, and services. From kindergarten to college and beyond, EAB partners with education leaders, practitioners, and staff to accelerate progress and drive results across three key areas: enrollment management, student success, and institutional operations and strategy.

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