The biggest factor affecting student retention happens before the student arrives

I've been in a lot of discussions about CRM for student recruitment and student retention systems in the last month, and today I'm spending the day in a planning workshop, so I thought I'd share a controversial thought bouncing around my brain about higher education student attrition:

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the biggest factor impacting student attrition is their preparation for university before they arrive. And if we were to ‘game’ student retention improvement, the most effective mechanism would be to alter the intake of students. But is that fair to do? Or, are we already doing it?

One factor that impacts student retention is prior academic achievement. It appears that students with lower academic scores on entry are more likely to drop out, although that be covering up other factors such as parental engagement, preparation for the style of learning in universities.

According to Steve Draper, from the University of Glasgow:

“If a student’s parents both went to university, preferably the same university; if their school assumed they would go and pre-trained them e.g. to take notes, use the library, to write essays exhibiting critical thinking, etc., then this may make that student more likely to succeed. Furthermore there are associations, almost certainly causal, between wealth and family support on the one hand, and retention on the other. More accurately, different families demonstrate different amounts of commitment to keeping a student in education. Previous academic achievement is a measure of this because it measures their demonstrated commitment to date, and so selecting for achievement is also likely to select for continued support, and against students who may have to leave to support their families which is a common cause of dropout.”

We already select students on their academic ability. Is it also okay to select student intake, based on their preparation for university (some already do)? And if so, do you draw the line at selecting according to the parent’s university history? Especially if you know that’s a real factor that drives student retention and attrition.

Find MoreFind related articles on CRM in education, for student recruitment and retention

Comments (2)

  1. Having been that student with a parent with a degree and one without, I clearly saw the advantages of going to college – it was always part of the conversation. Being the youngest of 3 kids, I saw my sisters go through teaching schools and enter schools as teachers themselves.

    I followed a medical path like my mother. She was a nurse and said, "Just spend a few more years in school and become a pharmacist. If anything, just get a degree and keep it in your pocket."

    Well, I have the degree in my pocket after following her advice. So I graduated, worked in the lab, bought the car, quit the job, sold the car, joined the peace corps, flew to Africa, and returned to follow my wife as she gets her degree.

    I've since started my own business and now, having earned over a $100,000 in my second year and making as much as a doctor, I'm not so quick to tell someone to go to school.

    Garrett Pfarr

  2. Ray Fleming says:

    Dear Readers,

    Every day I check the comments on this blog, and clean away all of the spam ones, to help to give you an improved reading experience – and to do my little effort in this corner of the Internet to stop the whole "link spam in comments" thing.

    And this morning I saw Garrett's comment, and thought to myself "Well, that looks like spam", and the Comments tracker had a big yellow "SPAM" button beside it, and nearly hit Delete. But then I looked a bit more – and realised that it definitely isn't the old "I earned $100,000 without getting out of bed" type of comment.

    And then I looked a bit more, and realised that perhaps it's a bit of both – a genuine comment, that just happens to have a link back to Garrett's company.

    So instead of destining it to the Sin Bin of Spam, I thought I should leave it. Because, let's face it, if more people started nice companies, and made nice comments on blogs, then the world would be a better place. And Garrett deserves the very, very small bump in search engine rankings that might come from every small one of these comments getting through people's spam filters.

    And, if I've fallen for the usual link-SPAM-comment, then at least it fits in the category of nicest-link-spam to go with nicest-windows-cleaners 🙂


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