First-year student retention averages around 67% across the nation. However, on average, 8.6% of students will choose an institution other than the one they originally enrolled in, and around 24% of students will drop out altogether. If your institution has been struggling to get students to remain on your campus, then it may be time for a change. Try out these simple yet effective ways to improve student retention at your college or university.
1. Make Sure Students Know What to Expect
College students have a lot of factors to consider when they select an institution. They may consider location, academics, campus amenities, and many other factors. All too often, however, those students will make a decision based on only part of the information. They may not know, for example, what your school’s culture is like. Alternatively, they don’t know what it will be like to get around campus every day. By ensuring that students know what to expect, you can help set them up for success from the start of the decision-making process.
Interactive campus maps are a key part of this approach for first-year student retention. Even before students visit the campus in person, during the recruitment process, they can take a look around them, get a better feel for the school itself, and take a look at key resources that may matter to them, from the campus running trails or the size of your athletic facilities to what food options are available in and around campus.
2. Communicate Regularly
College students may suffer from a variety of challenges, especially in their first year. Many college students are on their own for the first time, trying to navigate their way through independent life as adults. Unfortunately, when problems arise, they may not know who to ask for assistance or how to reach out. Worse, many students will fall off the radar and through the cracks, preventing them from getting the help and support they need.
Communicate routinely with students. That doesn’t just mean sending out newsletters and emails, though that may be an essential part of your plan. It also means ensuring that you check in with your students. Consider assigning a mentoring teacher or advisor who checks in with students regularly. Alternatively, assign someone in the dorms to connect with new students to ensure that their first year is a success.
3. Improve Student Access to Resources
There are many resources available to students on your campus, from tutoring to mental health services. You may have an on-campus gym, pool, and many other vital resources that can make students’ days better and allow them to thrive on campus.
Unfortunately, many of your students may not know how to access those resources when they need them. Where is your campus health center located? What about access to tutoring: does it take place in the library, within classrooms scattered across the campus, or at a central location or student building? All too often, first-year students will struggle to take advantage of those amenities—even when they could make all the difference in keeping students on campus.
Your interactive maps can once again come in to save the day. Students will be able to easily access the resources and locations across campus that they need, all from the convenience of their own digital devices.
4. Offer Mental Health Support
There is a mental health crisis on many college campuses that’s adversely affecting first-year student retention. As many as 60% of college students are struggling with mental health disorders: depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and many others. Unfortunately, many colleges are ill-prepared to deal with the challenges faced by their students.
On campus, offer mental health support—not just basic counseling services, but help that can guide students through those years. Encourage support groups. Offer classes or seminars on mental wellness. In addition, make sure students have access to the tools they need to manage mental health concerns.
5. Provide Social Networking Opportunities
The college experience is, in many ways, all about connection and socialization. Students don’t just come to college to learn, though that is certainly at the top of their list. They also come to connect with others: to make new friends, connect with new people, and participate in clubs and organizations. But it can be difficult for students to make those connections, especially if they are also struggling with any type of mental health condition.
On your campus, make those socialization and networking opportunities obvious. Host campus-wide events or smaller events out in your community to optimize first-year student retention. Consider what your local community is known for, from hiking or kayaking to a fantastic array of restaurant choices, and create programs and events that allow students to participate.
6. Define Student Success Expectations
What does it look like for students to succeed at your institution? Some students may have a vague or inaccurate idea of what success really looks like. They may assume, for example, that they can simply come to campus for their classes, complete their assignments, and move on. For many institutions, that may be an accurate picture. At other institutions, however, student success is defined by involvement and connection on campus–and students who do not engage may find themselves struggling.
Clearly define expectations for your students. Lay them out:
- What are your academic expectations?
- What are your social requirements?
- Will students need to complete an internship or other program before graduation?
- Do you require volunteer hours?
When you clearly outline student success expectations, you help set your students up for success.
7. Engage Parents
Often, parents are one of the vital pieces in students’ success stories. Parents know their students best. They’re also there to provide motivation and guidance as their students navigate those early college years.
Connect with parents regularly. Offer them insights into what’s going on across campus, including events parents may want to attend. Encourage parents to feel a sense of connection to the campus, which can help increase the odds that they will encourage their students to excel.
8. Partner With Your Community
Students want to feel as though they belong and are part of something—not just at school but within their local communities. Look for ways to form community partnerships and connect your students with the community. Consider options like:
- Volunteer opportunities: Not only can volunteering take students out into the community, but it can also help boost overall mental health and wellness.
- Community events and connections
- Mentorships within the local community
Encourage your students to become part of the local community, then give them the chance to do that. Go out into the community as a campus, as individual clubs, or as classes or major groups to improve student success outcomes.
9. Collect Feedback
Your students are your best source of information about how your campus is faring in your efforts on first-year student retention. Listen to what students have to say. While surveys are a great way to get generalized information from a large group of people, they may not provide all the information you need to make vital decisions about your next steps. Instead, consider these strategies.
- Check in with students regularly across the semester. Encourage advisors to listen to student complaints and identify common elements.
- Talk to students who aren’t returning. Schedule calls to find out why, both in cases where they transfer to another institution and in cases where students choose to leave college altogether.
- Speak to older students. Discuss what challenges they may have faced in their early years.
As you get to know what your students need to succeed, try implementing new programs and seeing how they perform over time.
10. Intervene Early to Boost First-Year Student Retention
Often, you can clearly see which students are most likely to struggle. Sometimes, professors will identify students who are struggling academically. In other cases, you may receive reports from counselors or other professionals working with your students.
When you do note a student struggling, intervene as early as possible to help improve outcomes. If students are dealing with mental health struggles, encourage them to take advantage of mental health resources and keep checking in to ensure they utilize them to the fullest possible extent. If students are struggling more with the academic rigors of college life, allow them to work with their professors to get caught up, go through tutoring, or access other resources that can help them succeed.
When accessed early, those tools and resources can have a greater impact on first-year student retention.
Let Us Help Connect Your Campus
At Concept 3D, we design interactive campus maps that can help connect students to the resources they need, when they need them. We also create 360° virtual tours that allow students to get a better idea of what the campus will really look like long before they set foot through the door. Contact us today to learn more about our options and how they can help with student success and retention.