How to Increase Student Retention: 3 Innovative Ways to Improve Student Retention

For leadership at colleges and universities across the United States, learning how to increase student retention is one of the most important areas of focus. For many, a school's retention rate is a reflection of the education and life it provides. In theory, if students are fulfilled in and out of the classroom, they will want to stay until they have graduated.

This is an imperfect measure, of course; many factors outside the school's control can influence one's desire to stick around or enroll elsewhere. Nevertheless, it does provide some insight into the services provided by colleges and universities, and it does impact their reputations significantly.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 60 percent of students who started a four-year bachelor's degree program in the fall of 2010 earned that degree from the same institution in six years. Numbers are similar for shorter programs: For first-time students enrolled full-time, the overall retention rate at two-year schools was just 62 percent from 2015 to 2016.

For colleges and universities wondering how to increase student retention, here are three innovative ideas to consider.

1. Identify At-Risk Students Early On

Providing adequate mental health services is absolutely crucial for higher learning institutions. This is truer today than ever before, as healthcare professionals throughout the country are dedicating their careers to what they call a "mental health crisis" on college and university campuses.

Here are some telling statistics, courtesy of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

This research also found that depression is the number one reason why students drop out. Indeed, if your school is trying to figure out how to increase student retention, evaluating your mental health services should be one of your top priorities.

Those services need to go far beyond the health center. Utilizing data such as attendance rates, academic performance, and survey results can help you identify who is struggling. Academic advisors need to do more than help students create schedules; they need to help students with any school-related problems--either by offering support themselves or directing them to people who can do so effectively.

And while many professors have their hands full as it is, they frequently interact with students and should take action if they believe someone is having a tough time. Faculty members need to feel comfortable contacting health services or sitting down with students if there are warning signs.

These actions have proved to work at institutes throughout the country. Georgia State University, for example, is a great model for schools learning how to increase student retention. Follow an investment of $2 million per year in academic advisors, which resulted in 42 additional advisors, graduation rates jumped more than 20 percent in a little more than a decade, according to the Center for Community College Student Engagement.

That investment paid for itself, said Tim Renick, Georgia State's Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success. Why? The answer is simple: Higher retention rates means greater revenue for the school.

Moreover, a RAND study in California showed that improving mental health services on campus can improve student retention substantially. This research, which analyzed higher learning institutions between 2013 and 2015, found that $8.7 million in yearly funding from the California Mental Health Services Authority produced magnificent results.

The authors estimate that 13.2 percent more students received care because of CalMHSA funding, and 329 more students will graduate each year because of that investment. The study also predicts this spike in treatment and decrease in dropouts can benefit society financially by as much as $56 million per year, and states the "net societal benefit" for California is $6.49 for every dollar invested by CalMHSA.

Without question, any institution examining how to increase student retention needs to reflect on its commitment to mental health services.

2. Connect With Students Before the Year Begins

According to U.S. News, up to one-third of first-year college students in the United States won't return to the same school the following year. One of the best ways to improve student retention is to go above and beyond to make sure each freshman class receives the attention it deserves.

Freshman orientation courses are common, but many do not meet the needs of new enrollees. And many don't commence in earnest until everyone is on campus. When the administration at Michigan State University was trying to gauge how to increase student retention, they realized that was too late. Now, at MSU, which sees around 90 percent of its freshman return as sophomores, incoming freshmen begin orientation during the summer.


The school does so by holding summer transition programs such as STEP, which is short for Spartans Transition to Excellence Program. Each STEP participant is paired with a faculty or staff member who is tasked with helping every student gain a sense of belonging and make vital connections.

Internal data from MSU is eye-opening. Before STEP began, only 17 percent of incoming freshmen felt they belonged on campus. After, however, that figure spiked to 79 percent. What's more, greater than 90 percent said they felt better informed to use a campus resource, felt ready to begin class, and wanted to get involved on campus.

External findings agree with MSU's conclusions and answer how to increase student retention. Per a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, which surveyed 1,935 students at Michigan State, colleges and universities should improve student retention by fostering connections to their students via summer transition programs such as STEP.

This study found that incoming freshmen who felt a connection with MSU during orientation were more likely to fit in and, as a result, were more likely to stay enrolled. This was especially true for students who identified as ethnic minorities.

Joshua Prasad, the lead author of MSU's internal study, said the school found that students "can develop a sense of fitting in before they even walk into class," and believes that feeling remains important as time wears on.

3. Implement a Queue Management & Appointment Schedulng System

One common pain point that should be examined when exploring how to increase student retention is student experience, specifically as it relates to their ability to access school services in a timely and efficient manner. It goes without saying that students don't like spending time waiting to handle university business such as class registration, financial aid services, and counseling. With QLess' queue management and appointment scheduling software, you can get your institution to the head of the class by getting rid of lines.

By harnessing the power of our system, you can give students specific times to deal with tasks such as registering for classes and applying for financial aid. When an appointment nears, the user will receive a text alert or phone message with an accurate update. This allows them to spend more of their time as they wish and less of their time getting frustrated in virtual and physical lines.

In short, QLess can improve student retention because students are more likely to stay enrolled when they feel their needs are being met. And those who are satisfied with the QLess system are can share their positive experiences through SMS surveys and word of mouth--building goodwill for your school and, in the long run, boosting its reputation.

Additionally, QLess can give you the ability to streamline staff allocation. By being more efficient with the resources available, you will keep your employees productive and happy. That will lead to better services for your students.

Our research shows that the QLess queue management system can help you slash attrition rates in half by enhancing the student service environment. This software has also been shown to increase student satisfaction ratings to 75 percent and cut operational costs related to student services up to 45 percent.

To learn more about how to increase student retention through QLess solutions, visit our queue management page. To experience for yourself how QLess works, you can schedule a web demo here. We also encourage you to check out our white papers, webinars, and ROI calculator.