Submitted by Memory Keller of Student Connections
In addition to the primary research we conduct, such as through our work with students and academic experts on our Advisory Boards, Student Connections regularly reviews findings from around the industry. Recently, we examined factors impacting student retention at colleges and universities in the United States.
Financial aid and resources available
It’s no surprise that students most commonly abandon their pursuit of higher education because of money. In fact, ACT identifies the amount of financial aid available to students as the number one factor contributing to student attrition rates for all types of colleges and universities. (Wesley R. Habley and Randy McClanahan, “What Works in Student Retention?” ACT, 2004, p. 10). Financial aid services is also listed among the top factors. Further, Ruffalo Noel Levitz reports that the high cost of schooling, an obligation to obtain full-time employment because of financial need, personal emergencies and uncertainty about the return on investment from a college education all contribute to student attrition (“2016 National Report: Freshman Motivations to Complete College,” Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2016, p. 4).
Choosing the right school and program
In addition to finances, uninformed decisions regarding which institution to attend and a poor understanding of the matriculation process appear to be major factors in student attrition. The Institute for Higher Education Policy reports that choosing which institution to attend is a complicated and confusing process, especially for first-generation and non-traditional students (Tiffane Cochran and Ann Coles, “Maximizing the College Choice Process to Increase Fit & Match for Underserved Students,” Institute For Higher Education Policy, 2011, p. 3). These students often do not have the background or access to tools that will help them fully consider the different pathways to the achievement of their educational goals. Once they do select an institution, they are often challenged by admission and financial aid processes. These factors often lead to students not selecting the institution that would best meet their individual needs and subsequently dropping out before they achieve their educational goals.
Lack of involvement and engagement
The third institutional factor impacting student attrition is lack of student involvement in campus life. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the more involved students are with their institutions, the more invested they are in their education. NSSE also has identified a correlation between student involvement and higher grades and completion rates. It makes sense that feelings of safety and belonging can go a long way toward keeping students engaged and working toward their educational goals.
The good news in these variables lies in what they share in common: They are under institutional influence. There are steps you can take today at your school to improve student engagement, understanding of enrollment requirements and campus culture, and financial literacy. In fact, the more you consider these seemingly disparate areas, the more apparent it becomes that they are integrated aspects of one unifying goal: student success. You may find you have little control over one area. However, by seizing opportunities to make a positive difference in others, you can shape the common outcome they produce.