Graphic image referrering what factors affect student retention.

Factors Affecting Student Retention & Ways to Improve

Many students kick off their higher education journey with a blend of excitement and nervousness. As they navigate their way, they inevitably encounter barriers and obstacles that could veer them off the path to graduation, ultimately contributing to increased drop-out rates, also referred to as stop-outs

It’s imperative for higher education institutions to address these challenges head-on, develop strategies to increase retention strategies, and provide solutions that empower students to persevere. 

By fostering a positive campus culture and offering robust academic support, you can address student challenges, increase student satisfaction, boost retention and lower attrition rates, and foster greater student persistence.

1. Academic Support

While the importance of academic performance might seem obvious, its profound impact on student retention and attrition is often overlooked. 

Beyond helping students overcome academic challenges, these support systems also play a critical role in boosting student confidence. It can be disheartening for students to initially feel excited about their program, only to later encounter academic difficulties that shake their self-belief. 

By offering strong academic support services, you're not only helping students overcome these challenges but also contributing to their self-assurance, both in their abilities and in your institution. Nurturing this confidence is crucial to ensure that students not only stay enrolled but also thrive in their educational journey, ultimately strengthening their commitment to your institution.

Accessible tutoring, effective academic advising, faculty interactions outside the classroom, and high-quality teaching empower students with the tools and guidance they need for academic success. 

These support systems boost their understanding of course materials, enhance their problem-solving and time-management skills, and create a positive and engaging learning experience that keeps students committed to their studies. 

By focusing on these aspects of academic support, universities actively enhance student retention, ensuring that learners not only graduate but also excel in their academic pursuits.

2. Institutional Support

When students choose to enroll in your college and university, it's not just about the catchy mascot or athletic reputation. It's a thoughtful decision based on their belief that your institution can help them achieve their career goals. They trust that your programs will provide the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to excel in their chosen field. Therefore, it's the institution's responsibility to meet these expectations. 

Students don't want to feel lost once they arrive on campus; they're looking for consistent support throughout their educational journey.

Factors like well-kept facilities, helpful administrative staff, and clear communication are crucial in shaping the student experience and promoting persistence

All of these elements come together to make an environment where students feel valued, informed, and supported, leading to a sense of belonging and confidence.

3. Financial Support

Financial difficulties can significantly affect students' ability to continue and succeed in higher education. 

The cost of enrollment, including tuition, fees, living expenses, and student loans, can create substantial barriers for students. As these financial challenges accumulate, students often face tough choices between staying in school and meeting their immediate financial needs. 

Understanding the complex connection between financial difficulties and student retention is vital, as it helps identify strategies institutions can use to reduce these burdens and create an environment where every student can flourish and the attrition rate can be minimal.

Making education affordable is essential for increasing student retention. Scholarships, grants, accessible financial aid, and work-study programs all help students maintain financial stability, increasing the likelihood they'll complete their program. 

When institutions address these financial support aspects, they enable students to concentrate on their studies rather than worrying about finances, ultimately strengthening their commitment to graduation.

4. Peer Relationships

Entering a new social environment can be daunting, and the initial weeks can feel lonely for many students. 

Social integration is a crucial part of a student's college experience. Positive connections improve students’ mental health and boost retention rates, while negative experiences might lead a student to consider leaving the institution. Providing opportunities for students to establish meaningful connections on campus can often make a difference in their ongoing success.

To boost student retention and decrease attrition, campuses should create a supportive environment. This involves nurturing social support networks, introducing mentoring programs, building a sense of belonging, offering various extracurricular activities, and developing programs based on diversity and inclusion. 

A robust peer support system and mentorship provide guidance and motivation. Diverse co-curricular activities—including high-impact practices—help students make friends, develop skills, and feel connected to their institution. 

In the end, these efforts enhance the college experience, supporting greater student persistence.

5. Campus Culture

The transition to higher education represents a monumental life change — especially for traditionally aged students who live on campus or take the majority of their courses there. They've selected your campus as their home for the next phase of their lives, dedicating the next few years to their academic pursuits. For many, the campus becomes their new home, and ensuring a healthy and enriching campus environment helps students feel truly at ease.

Inclusivity, campus safety, and student engagement are three key factors that can greatly influence campus involvement and boost student retention. A diverse and welcoming environment ensures students from different backgrounds feel valued and at home. 

Campus safety reassures students and creates a comfortable and secure atmosphere. Additionally, active student engagement, including participation in clubs, organizations, and co-curricular activities, contributes to a vibrant institutional culture. When institutions prioritize these aspects, they enhance the campus experience and improve student retention.

The power to improve student retention and prevent attrition lies in an institution's commitment to meeting the needs of its students and creating a campus environment they genuinely love. By fostering a culture of inclusivity, providing robust academic support, addressing financial concerns, and promoting peer relationships, institutions can ensure that every student feels valued, supported, and connected. As a result, students are more likely to persist, thrive and graduate.

Click here or below to download our free infographic examining how an improved student experience impacts student retention, satisfaction, success and more.  

the impact of student engagement by the numbers


Jodi Tandet

Jodi Tandet

Jodi Tandet is Modern Campus's Manager of Brand Content. She's holds a Bachelor's degree in Creative Writing from Emory University and a Master's in College Student Affairs from Nova Southeastern University. As a campus professional, she's advised student organizations, planned co-curricular events, developed leadership programs and staffed trips abroad. Jodi lives in Riverview, Florida with her canine roommate, Maisi.

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Last updated: November 10, 2023


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