Engaging and retaining college students through technology

Candace Rodeman

September 10, 2015

Using technology to improve college student retention.
Technology can help campuses retain more college students, but it requires a commitment to training and implementation to have the greatest impact on student retention.

In the last several months, I have had the opportunity to attend several national and state private post-secondary school conferences. The participating schools were looking for ways to improve enrolling, retaining, and preparing students for their chosen careers in light of the new Gainful Employment rules, which took effect on July 1.The use of technology and the processes that enhance the nature of the technology were a focus of many of the conference sessions.

Technology supporting retention management is often handled in-house through institution-developed dashboards and a combination of platforms that support a proactive approach to identifying student retention issues. This approach enables school personnel to work with the needs of individual students.

However, in many instances higher education institutions grow far faster than one student information system can handle. In their quest to solve student retention management issues, institutions have built their own platforms, or purchased software that does not properly integrate with their needs and ultimately does not give them the information to work strategically in their approach to student and graduate success. To successfully develop student success platforms, it is important to understand the staff and student interactions with the technology.

The importance of staffing when using college student retention technologies

In conversations with many of the schools that have developed their own student retention management platforms, they identify the importance of staffing and processes to support the technology.

One important question comes to mind as we look at the software supporting retention management tools: who is developing the software? Although it is important to have a technology background, accessing the correct information and how it interfaces with the staff are also important elements of the development.

I have discovered that many of the individuals championing the charge for retention management software development have a student advising or student development background with some interest or background in technology. In my observation, the most common trait among these individuals is their passion for student success, and again it is clear the use of technology is a tool to leverage student success and graduate outcomes.

Identifying college student success data

One of the main suggestions in developing software to address student retention is to understand your institution’s definition of student success:

  1. What data are associated with college student success?
  1. What systems are involved in student success?
  1. How much work will be required to integrate the various student success systems?
  1. How can we align resources to support student success?

Many times the data associated with student success are stored in multiple areas and not accessible to the members of the institution who can impact student success and graduate outcomes. Taking a holistic approach involves the inclusion of various team members, students, and technology, and the interactions between these components needs to be seamless in order to be successful.

It is important in the development of student retention software to understand the gaps and the best ways to provide the users the access and resources they need in order to be successful. Access to student retention data is critical to making strategic retention planning decisions, student interventions, and connecting students to individual resources they need for success. That’s something that retention systems such as the Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) and College Student Inventory (CSI) do. They not only help institutions capture the information they need in order to improve student retention and graduation rates, but make that data accessible and actionable. Having the proper surveys and student success tools can lead to valuable initiatives in developing a student success course and understanding the barriers associated with under-employed graduates.

Make sure your staff, systems, and strategies produce a holistic approach to student retention

Among the sessions I attended this summer, one discussed a fragmented approach versus a holistic approach to supporting student success. Taking a holistic approach to student retention management has many nuances and it is important that the executive leadership of your institution supports the leveraging of technology to improve student success. Additionally you need to identify the selection and development of a team, resources, and data points in order to represent all student needs. Remember, data does nothing unless it is used, and it cannot be used if it cannot be accessed.

You can also find useful benchmarks for retention practices in our 2015 report. It provides a great starting point for seeing what campuses are doing in terms of student retention technology and data.

Do you have any questions or ideas about using technology to support retention? Email me and let me know, or leave a comment below.

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Enrollment, Student Success