One of the biggest challenges institutions across the country are currently facing is student attrition. Unlike most obstacles we see in higher ed which are typically determined by the size and type of school, student attrition is a widespread issue that does not discriminate between the private or public sector.
Scope of the Problem
According to a 2014 OECD report, the United States has one of the highest college dropout rates; while 71% of students in the UK complete their undergraduate program, only 49% of undergraduate students in the United States leave school with a degree. With the average school losing over $9M due to students not retaining, it’s clear that this is an issue that cannot persist. Additionally, what exacerbates this loss is the fact that this income may have been included in an institution’s yearly budget. Prevailing research attributes this loss to a variety of factors, including students feeling as though they don’t belong, that the time and effort needed to complete a degree is not worth it, as well as course schedules conflicting with personal commitments.
Taking Positive Action
While these numbers seem dismal, there are actions we can take in order to help students persist. According to Dr. Vincent Tinto, in order for a student to succeed, he/she needs to feel as though they belong to the campus community. Students who actively engage with the campus (that is, attend events, join groups, etc.) are more likely to persist simply because they feel a connection to their campus. However, students who are statistically more likely to drop out (i.e. first-generation students, commuter students, part-time students, students who depend on financial aid, etc.) are the ones we must focus our attention on. According to a 2013 study done by the Education Policy Institute, “schools could improve their retention rates by up to 76 percent if they focus more on student needs.” For the previously mentioned at-risk students, that means easy access to student services, peer-to-peer support and financial aid, to name a few.
With 97% of Gen-Z and Millennials owning smartphones, one way institutions can give students easy access to these services is by adopting a mobile platform that is intuitive, personalized, and pragmatic. If designed with both students and administrators in mind, the right mobile app can drastically impact a student’s higher ed experience. By adopting a platform with a campus wall, students would have 24-hour access to their peers whom they can turn to for support or advice. Another benefit of going mobile is the ability to give students convenient access to information regarding financial aid and student services. For example, if a student wanted to make an appointment to seek out help regarding mental health, he/she could use the app to find out where and how to do so, directly from their smartphone. While student attrition won't be solved overnight, colleges and universities must think outside of the box in order to help today's students complete their degrees.