What Can Higher Education Institutions Do to Reduce the College Dropout Rate?
Institutional Change to Focus on Student Life and Job Readiness are Key
Without question, multiple factors impact an institution’s student retention rate. Authorities agree that the most students are lost between the freshman and sophomore years. How bad is the problem and what can schools do to prevent it?
Not surprisingly, a report by U.S. News states that highly selective institutions (those that accept fewer than 10% of applicants) have the highest rates of student retention with rates of 95-99% . I think it is reasonable to assume that these students are among the most academically prepared and also extremely goal-oriented. We can also make another assumption that these elite institutions generally have large endowments and liberal financial resources for students.
Liberal arts institutions and regional universities and colleges report markedly lower retention rates. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only 72.1 percent of students who started college in the fall of 2014 persisted at any U.S. institution in fall 2015, and only 60.6 percent returned to their starting institution. In any industry, losing 30-40% of your employees within the first year would be a crisis, so why aren’t schools doing more?
Recent headlines suggest that financial obligations and issues of student debt are foremost, however other considerations include students being ill-prepared for the academic rigor of higher education, lack of perceived value in a degree, and/or the degree of independence (“adulting”) required. Significant rates of student dropout or transfer have a noteworthy impact on not only institutional budgets, but also on resources, the campus environment and the economy at large, to say nothing of the individual student who leaves without a degree and must select the awkward “Some college” choice on surveys.
We could go on forever about the reasons students do not return to school, but let’s focus on what proactive institutions can do to improve their retention rate. Simply, engage students in all aspects of campus life. Recognize their accomplishments. Provide support for them academically. And most importantly, prepare them for the workforce.
A strong student learning outcomes assessment program provides you with a painless way to talk with students about their growth towards competency and their workforce readiness. You can effortlessly collect data about specific aspects of student engagement on your campus and then develop programs to address issues. You can also monitor student progress and then recognize student achievement, as well as easily identify your at-risk population so you can provide them with the supports that they require.
The benefits of an ePortfolio-enabled student learning assessment platform for students are clear. When students engage in effective reflective practices through their portfolios, they can see their own growth over time, they become enthusiastic about their learning and self-motivated. They can see how far they’ve come and the goals that once appeared far off in the distance, are now within reach. They are proud of their accomplishments and want to continue. They also can get a steady supply of valuable feedback from faculty, peers and mentors from the work and reflections they submit. The use of such systems are not just data rich about program improvement, they are sources of affirmation for students that they are learning.
Institutions can easily see student progress and, through the use of CWPro’s escalation tool, can automatically be alerted about students who may need additional attention.
It is not just about what’s going on in the classroom. Organizations, clubs, and campus athletics provide rich opportunities for students to develop and demonstrate and get feedback about the development of so-called ‘soft skills’ of communication, teamwork and leadership that are so valued by employers. MyMantl by Chalk & Wire is another type of ePortfolio that provides a simple way to recognize students for their accomplishments with a verified credential they can showcase. Integrated with CWPro, MyMantl can award badges when specific levels of competency have been achieved. Employers then have much more insight than can be gained through a flat resume, a transcript or the opaque degree.
A proactive ePortfolio-enabled student learning assessment platform will not solve all the problems facing higher education today. However, actively engaging students in the learning process and providing them with a more transparent way to showcase their skills and transition to the workforce will go along way towards retaining their confidence in the system and will also show that the institution cares about their future success. It can’t help but make them want to return next fall.