Top 5 Challenges for Student Retention

April 29, 2022 Watermark Insights

challenges of student retention challenges of student retention in higher education what affects student retention identifying at risk college students

Many college students begin their journey in higher education with high hopes for improving their lives. However, unexpected difficulties can make obtaining a degree challenging, and some students drop out of their program entirely. Addressing the challenges of student retention is one of the best ways for your community college or other higher education institution to achieve greater student success.

Fortunately, higher education institutions can fight the challenges of student retention in higher education. Learn about the most significant challenges and some strategies your institution can take to mitigate these risk factors for your students.

5 Factors That Affect Student Retention

In the fall semester of 2020, America's overall college retention rate fell by its largest percentage since reporting began. This decline in retention places the spotlight on higher education institutions as they reevaluate their methods.

What affects student retention? Several factors are common to nearly all students, like financial responsibilities and academic issues. Community colleges face a heightened risk of college attrition because their students encounter outside pressures like families and full-time jobs.

Consider the top five challenges of student retention in higher education to develop solutions that will take your students and institution far.

1. Financial Burdens

Financial responsibility is one of the top three challenges college students face. A college education requires a significant investment. Many students must take out student loans to pay for their higher education, and many worry about how to support their families during their enrollment. Students' ability to afford tuition, textbooks, and other educational expenses can impact an institution's retention rate. Students also have to consider the future cost of debt.

These considerations make the financial burden of higher education one of the most common challenges for students. Many students question whether their education will let them recoup their immediate and future costs after graduation.

2. Academic Challenges

Academic preparedness is another of the top challenges of student retention. College courses can be rigorous and demanding. After a few weeks of classes, some students realize that their earlier education did not prepare them for the new curriculum. Others have a gap in their education that leaves them without the necessary foundation for further studies.

Taking remedial courses can bring students up to date on required information. Students may also retake classes to improve grades or gain the credit they need. However, retaking a course can be an additional cost, leading to student attrition. It's essential for students to prepare to prevent this costly dilemma ahead of time.

3. Balancing Commitments

As students focus on achieving success in school and their future careers, they also handle responsibilities in other areas of their lives. Adult students and those studying at community colleges often have full-time jobs, children, families, or other responsibilities. Even traditional college students often participate in internships, student councils and societies, and extracurricular activities like intercollegiate athletics.

Students balance many demands on their time, mental space, and physical energy. College is often when students have more difficulty managing time, saying no, and focusing on priorities than ever before.

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4. Mental Health

With so many stressors to manage, many students experience worry and anxiety during their experience in higher education. According to a recent survey, 47% of college students reported clinically significant depression and anxiety symptoms. Another 66% felt isolated from others regularly, a significant factor in developing negative mental health symptoms.

Increasing engagement and a sense of belonging can positively impact student mental health. Students may also need resources like counseling, coaching, and guidance in school success.

5. Student Assistance Resources

One of the little-discussed challenges of student retention is the success of student resources. Many institutions offer some level of student assistance, though the effectiveness of those programs varies. If students are unaware of the resources available to them or don't use them, they are missing out on the help your institution can provide. Deeper issues may go unresolved, leading to attrition.

Students can significantly benefit from an institution's resources if the administration implements those resources effectively. Writing centers, academic tutors, guidance counseling, career success conferences, and a faculty who are accessible for answering questions all contribute to student success. These tools should be simple and effective so that students can maximize their benefit.

How Your Institution Can Improve Student Retention

The challenges of student retention in higher education require innovative solutions. Colleges and other higher education institutions should implement some strategies for driving change. Consider these approaches to reducing the challenges of student retention:

  • Improve the educational experience: Assisting your institution's students with financial burdens and academic challenges starts with improving their educational experience. Instructors can help prevent academic issues by using efficient teaching methods and being available to students who need help. Encourage these improvements through faculty evaluations, mid-course surveys, better office hours, and other tools to boost student engagement.
  • Support student mental health: Supporting students' mental health is an essential strategy for ensuring student success. Ensure your institution offers accessible and genuinely beneficial resources like counseling and academic guidance. Foster holistic well-being by promoting faculty engagement, campus programs, and other social resources. Finally, communicate the availability of these support systems by creating a resource guide for students and sharing it widely. Individual coaching can also help students find the support they need.
  • Develop intervention strategies: Identifying at-risk students requires careful attention to student behavior, which may be more challenging for larger institutions. However, proactive intervention can significantly change the story for a potential dropout. When students go off their educational course, counselors can step in to discover the issue and develop a solution. Administrators need knowledge of a student's struggles to intervene effectively.
  • Gather student data: Data collection and analysis are valuable tools for implementing student retention strategies. Statistics only tell one part of a student's story, but they are an excellent starting point for understanding students' needs. Predictive analytics are crucial for analyzing student trajectories and optimizing the chance of program and degree completion. Data solutions can monitor student performance and sort students into medium and high-risk categories. This insight enables counselors to make informed decisions for advancing student success.

With these proactive strategies and others, college and higher education administrators can fight college attrition and enhance their students' experience to promote success.

Request a Demo of Student Success & Engagement

Identifying and alleviating some of the factors of student attrition is an essential step if institutions want to help students succeed. To help, Watermark created a student success solution powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and designed to help institutions increase retention rates.

The Student Success & Engagement platform tracks student progress and generates custom reports to provide deeper insight into student success. The software also identifies interventions so counselors can collaborate with students to provide the resources they need.

Our more than 20 years of experience at Watermark enable us to provide higher education institutions with powerful tools for driving institutional advancement. Request a demo today to learn more about what our software can help you accomplish.

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