According to research from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), only 59 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduates at four-year institutions graduate within six years. At private for-profit institutions, the six-year graduation rate is only 32 percent.
For students at two-year degree-granting institutions, 29 percent of first-time, full-time undergraduates completed a certificate or associate’s degree within three years.
Only 33 percent of returning and non-traditional students earn a degree within six to eight years.
While overall enrollment has increased over the last decade (and is expected to continue to rise), the percentage of students continuing to graduation or completing degrees is declining. Not only can this lead to amassed student debt without the benefit of a two or four-year degree, but may result in those students earning up to 70 percent less.
Academic reasons can account for about 20 percent of a student’s failure to return, but the majority of the time, this may be attributed to feelings of isolation, difficulty adjusting, financial hardship and failure to integrate into the campus community. Of these, the most significant — and easily curable — are isolation and integration.
Specifically, getting faculty more involved in your students’ educational progress can make a big difference in whether they return the following term.
Here are three simple ways to make this happen:
#1: Use Analytics to Track Progress
It stands to reason that amount of time a student actively participates in class and the more time she spends engaging with the assigned materials will directly reflect how successful she will be in the course. But with online courses, where attendance isn't really a factor and face-to-face interaction isn't feasible, measuring these factors can be a little more difficult.
Some schools are using data collection to get results, tracking how students interact within a learning management system, how often they access course materials online and participate in online activities to create a holistic view of the student's day-to-day performance.
#2: Make It Personal
Once you have an accurate picture of how your students are engaging with their course materials, as well as how they're performing in class, your faculty can use this information to tailor personal messages to those individuals in need of encouragement. For some, an email that references specific achievements may resonate — and keep a student on track who may have otherwise given up. That was the case for one Valencia College student in this story from NPR:
It's 20-year-old Randall Lofton's third shot at college. He's already wiped out twice. Too much partying and basketball, he says, and not enough studying. "I didn't apply myself."
Lofton is now trying to balance a full-time job with three classes at community college. He's taking a mix of online and in-class work at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla.
"So this is pretty much my last chance," he says. "This is something that I want to do, so I'm gonna work my heart off."
So far, he is. Lofton recently aced an online introductory composition class. One small thing that may have proved a big help: His professor sent several personalized messages of support. Lofton even keeps one email from his English professor, Neal Phillips, saved on his tablet.
"I screen-shot it and I saved it," Lofton says. "And he was basically saying, like, 'Don't quit, you're very hardworking in this class. The course is almost over; I appreciate your participation. I appreciate how you're very diligent and very intrigued by the work.' That touched me that somebody was paying attention. And I'm not just in somebody's class just as a name. That was cool."
#3: Reach out with Social Media
Is social media a good tool for reaching your students? Absolutely, as creating an online community will make students feel more connected, less isolated, and less likely to disengage. While an LMS can provide some opportunities for interaction, utilizing the networks and platforms your students are already familiar with will most likely lead to increased participation and greater retention.
Facebook may lack the coolness factor of more recent additions, but 71 percent of online adults still use it regularly — that makes it a good place to start. Instagram has 400 million monthly users and is extremely popular with college students. Though technically messaging apps, both Snapchat and Whatsapp have grown in popularity, with 100 million and 600 million users respectively.