Historic enrollment declines are threatening the financial wellbeing of many institutions. With more and more prospective students opting out of college, the traditional practice of recruiting more new students is simply not enough. Instead, colleges and universities must focus resources on effective student retention strategies that keep their current students enrolled.
But how do you prevent your current students from dropping out? How can you identify who’s likely to leave? Intervene when students need it most? And provide beneficial wraparound services to every student who needs them with limited time, money, and staff?
Taking a Data-Activated Approach to Student Retention
The University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) Student Advocacy team has done just this by taking a data-activated approach to student retention. This allows them to connect students to holistic success services for little additional cost by more efficiently using existing programs and staff.
At UCO, the Office of Student Advocacy helps students find a path to academic and personal success. Student Advocates work closely with other academic and student affairs departments to help students build financial literacy, develop academic skills, troubleshoot enrollment issues, complete their degrees, and connect with the right campus resources to reach their goals.
Using a combination of data-informed student success strategies, the Student Advocacy team has significantly impacted student retention and financial sustainability at UCO. Their work has led to the retention of 112 students who would have otherwise withdrawn and $375,712 in additional net tuition revenue in just 2020 alone.
Student Advocacy’s Top 3 Retention Practices
The Student Advocacy team identified three practices that have been instrumental in their work to significantly move the needle on student retention:
- Access Specific Student Data in Real-Time
Before their partnership with Civitas Learning©, the Student Advocacy team relied on static data for insight into student needs, making it difficult to connect students to the impactful interventions in time to make a real difference.
With Civitas Learning, the Student Advocacy team can now disaggregate real-time student data into relevant sub-groups. They can see changes like specific transfer students whose likelihood to persist recently dropped and tailor interventions and messages to meet the needs of those particular students. It also allows them to deliver those interventions and messages when students need them most, giving the student advocacy team access to real-time actionable insights that aren’t available from routine analysis of static data.
- Create Multiple Meaningful Touchpoints
It’s challenging to get even the most engaged student to respond to email outreach. So much so that it’s a common sentiment across college campuses that students just don’t read their emails. But the Student Advocacy team’s email campaigns consistently show open rates between 60-70%. How are they achieving this level of engagement?
The Student Advocacy team finds that creating multiple touch points about the same topic broken into small digestible nuggets is an effective way to get students to engage via email. Student Advocates send messages to small groups who would benefit most from outreach, rather than sending redundant mass communications to everyone. They ensure that each message is easy to read, includes the most critical information, and links to key resources.
In their efforts to provide timely, focused support, the Student Advocacy team sent personalized messages based on persistence likelihood to 2,579 first-year and transfer students to highlight relevant resources around applying for financial aid, including deadlines, step-by-step guides, and FAQs. Students who engaged with these emails persisted at a higher rate than expected and drove +$58,200 in retained net tuition revenue with just one outreach message.
- Centralize Student Communication with Cross-Functional Collaboration
Each department on campus sending its own email campaigns to students strains time and human resources. Besides being inefficient, redundant messaging from multiple offices can harm engagement, often leading to students ignoring emails altogether.
The Student Advocacy department centralizes communication efforts across campus to avoid redundant messaging and make sure communication is timely and personalized.. They coordinate with faculty and staff to use data to uncover challenges and serve as a problem-solving resource for programs, departments, and colleges. Because the Office of Student Advocacy is autonomous from other offices, it can coordinate cross-functional student success efforts and act on behalf of other departments to scale support to specific student groups.
With Civitas Learning, the Criminal Justice department uncovered data that criminal justice majors earning an average grade of 74% or lower were less likely to persist to the following term. The department chair collaborated with the Student Advocacy team to develop precise messaging to connect students who were less likely to persist to resources to help them succeed in their classes. By working with Student Advocacy the Criminal Justice department engaged 300 students with individualized support, resulting in positive student feedback improved persistence and retention.
Data-Activated Approach Takes Retention Efforts to the Next Level
Since implementing the Civitas Learning Student Impact Platform, the Student Advocacy team is even more intentional about its retention efforts. It now uses analytics to improve enrollment awareness, resource referrals, and registration in future semesters. Access to real-time data and actionable analytics has helped them accelerate their retention efforts to support students’ academic experiences and contribute to the university’s financial well-being.