How Colleges Can Combat Rising Attrition Rates Through Increased Retention Efforts

February 9, 2022 Watermark Insights

Retention and recruitment efforts are unbalanced in higher education institutions. As institutions focus efforts and budgets on recruiting new students, they often overlook the financial loss associated with current students prematurely leaving the college or university.

Many factors can affect retention of college students, such as academic preparation and the strength of the economy. In the current state of the world, both recruitment and attrition rates will fluctuate. Although higher education institutions can’t control the economic environment, they can increase efforts and support to students who may be at risk of churning due to various factors.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports that only 40% of students at public 2-year institutions obtain a degree or credential within six years of starting. As such, community colleges in particular have a unique opportunity to hone their focus on the entire student lifecycle beyond just recruitment as they seek to reduce attrition rates. Ultimately, making an investment in retention not only helps students find success in their college career, but also creates financial stability for the institution itself.

What Causes Student Attrition?

What Causes Student Attrition?

Studies show attrition can be a result of low grades, lack of commitment, decreased satisfaction, and personal and financial difficulties — but community colleges face additional pressures when it comes to retaining students. These 2-year institutions traditionally educate the students underserved in education, and have a larger population of Black, Latinx, part-time, and older students, which can result in higher attrition rates across the institutions as a whole.

How Does Attrition Affect Institutions?

According to the American Institutes for Research, states spent approximately $6.2 billion through colleges and universities on students who did not return their second year. Additionally, the Federal government gave upwards of $1.5 billion in grants to students who did not return. These numbers are likely underestimating total costs as they do not account for community colleges, the institutions that often experience the highest student churn.

When students drop out in the midst of obtaining a degree, the institution loses out on the money that was spent on recruiting and enrolling them. With community colleges having the lowest rates of degree completion, that equates to a third of their institutional spending allocated to students who do not obtain a degree.

How Can Institutions Fight Attrition?

While student recruitment continues to be a major component in an institution’s enrollment management plan, many are still missing a huge opportunity when it comes to student retention. In fact, we tracked a consortium of community colleges over a four-year period and found that a modest 4% increase in degree completion among community colleges equated to $719 million in tuition revenue and an additional 134,000 students earning a credential for the Fall 2018 cohort alone.

How Can Watermark help?

By integrating Watermark Student Success & Engagement (formerly Aviso Engage) into their recruiting and retention efforts, institutions can easily identify in-need students and provide support before they make the decision to leave. With Watermark Student Success & Engagement, institutions could identify at-risk students and provide personalized support to prevent attrition, helping students reach their academic goals and avoiding financial fallout for both the institution and the students themselves.

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