Dec 7, 2020

How Student and Parent Engagement Predicts Student Attrition – Part One


Nearly 20 years ago, I was managing the enrollment of a comprehensive private university in the Pacific Northwest. One of my main duties as dean was to manage and integrate our efforts on student retention. The theory at that time, and still today, was that students tend to reveal their plans to leave based upon basic variables of engagement. We decided to put it to the test.

On an early September day, I asked all the key cabinet officers to collect all of the following student lists and bring them back to the table by October 1st, one month after school had started. The list included all of the students that had done each of the following:

  • asked for a roommate change;

  • had a student disciplinary violation;

  • were not attending class;

  • had not seen their advisor;

  • were more than 60 days late on their bill;

  • had the largest gaps in their financial aid package;

  • had been admitted on probation or just on the edge of our admission requirements;

  • had not shown up for their assigned on campus job.

We met together in the beginning of October to examine the list. As each officer presented their list, which in all totaled about 70 students, we were astonished at what we learned. About 90% of the people on each list were the same students! In other words, their behavior was clearly indicating that they had checked out, or become far less engaged in school life from the first month of the school year. And, most interestingly, some of this data was available to us prior to the school year starting.

Student and parent engagement that exhibits specific behavior can often predict retention. When a student or parent is thinking about not returning to campus for the following term or year, certain sorts of behavior can be not only witnessed, but identified and tracked.

So, what did we do? I will share our retention efforts in Part Two later this week.

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