The higher education industry has seen significant change over the past decade, including a shift in institutional focus from access to success, and a new emphasis on student outcomes.
The difficult truth is that for those who start university or college, it is a coin toss whether they will get that critically important degree. There are, of course, regional differences in completion, though even students who do graduate cannot be certain that degree will lead to employment.
Consequently, institutions are being forced to develop sustainable student success strategies to ensure that students graduate on time with an affordable, meaningful degree or credential. In support of these strategies, institutions must leverage more data, look toward a student success solution to analyze that data, and initiate interventions to help keep students on track.
Students are struggling to finish what they start
Although enrollment increases year on year, student retention is costly and problematic. Recent data from the UK’s Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) revealed that the proportion of UK students dropping out of higher education before their second year increased for the second year in a row. The first-year dropout rate for students aged under 21 in 2014–15 was 6.2%, an increase on the figure for 2013–14, which was 6%. Although the rates have not reached the highs of the 1990s, when dropout rates peaked at almost 8%, any increase is of concern to institutions.
In the U.S., retention and timely degree completion statistics are even worse. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that only 59% of students completed a bachelor’s degree by 2015 at the same four-year degree-granting institution they started attending in 2009.
All is at stake for institutions
Historically, responsibility for outcomes and retention has rested primarily with the student rather than the institution. However, as costs have risen and the link between an educated workforce and economic development has tightened, governments now hold institutions directly accountable by tying funding to student success. Regardless of these changes, not all institutions are set up to manage student success with a coherent approach across disciplines that begins when the student settles on a course and continues through to graduation.
Of course, there is no universal answer to student success and retention problems; different student cohorts require different kinds of outreach, organizational models, and technology solutions. However, all institutions should aim to build a structure for collaboration between units on campus to increase student success. For example, academic advising should enable connections between students and the institution, and have access to up-to-date data to support students.
Additionally, institutions should look to technology companies with experience in providing advising, early warning, and intervention system capabilities to help them understand what is and is not possible, and move toward realizing their strategic goals.
It’s time for a student success solution
Technology companies are making significant investments in the quality and capabilities of their solutions, and as institutions purchase these, it is critical for institutions to think about what truly makes a robust student success solution. There is a significant difference between an analytics tool and a true student success solution.
It is not just about the collection and analysis of data, but also whether that data and analysis prompts the end user to do something to help students, and whether there are a range of channels that provide support.
For more on this topic, see Weigh The Economics Of Higher Education.