It Takes A Village.
If you are a higher education professional like me, it is highly probable that we have one thing in common—a vested interest in student success. Success can be defined in many ways, but for higher education practitioners, the two main barometers are student recruitment and retention.
Student recruitment has never been easy. Today, almost every higher education institution uses some form of technology to recruit prospective students. With the onslaught of digital technologies that impact the way communities can now communicate and interact with one another, strategies for recruiting students have become even more complex. Recruitment professionals report more allocated spending on online and digital marketing. It is my belief, however, that student recruitment does not need to be expensive or complicated. The same can be said for student retention. How? An often unrecognized or underutilized source is at everyone’s fingertips—faculty. Faculty matter in relation to student recruitment and retention. They matter a lot.
But student recruitment is more than simply matching students’ choices and their potential for success. Good student recruitment strategies address factors that equip them to make knowledgeable choices that can impact the rest of their lives.
#FacultyMatters in Student Retention
So how can faculty improve student retention?
- Faculty Feedback & Engagement
Instructors are in many cases the first point of contact when students enter college. They serve as the most consistent guiding force for students in the beginning and then throughout their academic careers. Scholars such as Pascarella & Terenzini (1993), Pascarella (2001), Kezar (2001) and Kuh (2001) highlight the critical importance of the role faculty have in the student engagement process. Faculty will naturally be on the front lines of discussion and information regarding student issues, institutional challenges, academic success and failures, and individual student goals. Our engagement and feedback (or direction) is possibly the most critical element in retaining students beyond their initial enrollment. While the entire burden can’t and shouldn’t be placed on in the classroom faculty, they can strategically improve an institution’s retainment by utilizing some clear-cut strategies:
- Early at-risk identification for struggling students
- Rethinking or non-traditional office hours
- Collaborating with academic advisors
- Recommending campus resources such as free tutoring, health centers, etc.
- Faculty & Student Interactions
Researchers studying students’ interactions with the college environment further cite work of scholars such as Tinto (2000) and Astin (1993). These experts posit that when students are engaged in college experiences, student retention occurred. In fact, the central premise of Tinto’s (1993) model reveals that “students’ decisions to persist or withdraw from college depend on their successful academic and social integration within the college education was one that engaged students in proven good educational practices (e.g., focus and quality of undergraduate teaching, interactions with faculty and peers, and involvement in coursework) and that added value to student learning.”
Faculty and student relationships lie at the crux of all collegiate activities and are themselves one of the most critical components in the overall experience of undergraduate students. According to Adam Duberstein from Ohio Dominican University, in his piece entitled, Building Student-Faculty Relationships, “Student-faculty relationships are the most significant connection within a campus community.” He adds, “When students feel connected to the campus community, they are more often retained and excel academically, creating a winning situation for everyone.”
- Pedagogy & Structure
Like many of my academic peers, I strive to provide students with a sound curriculum that includes practical, relevant, real-life examples of professional practice in their respective fields. Including and updating these real-world examples help future graduates understand and make the connection between the classroom the careers and companies that they will work for one day. Adapting one’s pedagogy to illustrate practical career examples can improve student retention by giving them a glimpse into their future employment world. A large number of students both appreciate this sneak peek and are incentivized to stay with the course (and college) since it outlines a clear pathway to future success.
Additionally, my preliminary research has shown that students from under-served groups, particularly students of color, don’t often see themselves represented in college curricula. The effort to address these curriculum issues will not only benefit minority students but ALL students. Analyze your syllabus and curriculum, identify areas where examples, readings, case studies, or discussions can include or offer a more diverse representation in scholarship. By making your curriculum more inclusive and diverse you not only provide further encouragement and representation, and ultimately improve the retainment, for under-served groups but you offer a more enriched experience for your entire class.
Astin, A. (1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Duberstein, A. (2009, March). Building student-faculty relationships. Academic Advising Today, 32
Hattie, J. & Marsh, H. W. (1996). The Relationship between research and teaching: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66, 507-542.
Kezar, A. (1999). Higher education trends (1997-1999): Faculty. Washington, DC: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Higher Education.
Kuh, G. D. (2001). Assessing what matters to student learning: Inside the National Survey of Student Engagement. Change, 33(3), 10-17, 66.
Pascarella, E. (2001). Identifying excellence in undergraduate education: Are we even close? Change, 33 (3), 19-23.
Pascarella, E. & Terenzini, P. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tinto, V. (1993). Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. 2nd. Ed. Chicago:
of Chicago Press.
Tinto, V. (2000). Linking learning and leaving: Exploring the role of the college classroom in student departure. In J.M. Braxton (Ed.), Reworking the student departure puzzle (pp. 81-94). Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.