Across Australia, tens of thousands of students start courses in universities that they never finish. Sometimes it’s because they find their course isn’t quite what they expected, and switch to a more suitable course. And sometimes they find that the university or course doesn’t meet their needs, and they switch university. Other times they end up leaving higher education.
In the past, whilst this has been an issue for universities, it hasn’t been seen as a critical business issue. But, with the new competitive marketplace that’s been created by the lifting of the cap on student enrolments, there’s a new atmosphere on most campuses. Senior leaders are looking at their institutions, courses and teaching, and asking “What more can we do to keep our students?”.
When recruiting a student costs many thousands of dollars, and losing a student costs tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in future revenue, and some Australian universities teeter on the brink of financial instability, then attitudes are changing rapidly.
In 2011 university student attrition stood at nearly 20%, with some universities losing over a third of their students.
We’re talking about a loss of tens of millions of dollars to a university – hundreds of millions across Australian universities.
So, what do we know about the factors which affect student retention? In reality, less than Coles or Woolworths know about our grocery buying habits. There are projects across many universities, within Australia and internationally. There are factors being examined and tested. And broad agreement on some key factors. But until we can develop at least the same kind of smart approach to this that the grocers take, we’re in the foothills.