Improving Retention Within Higher Education
How institutions can follow-through on the promises they make during recruitment
Communication is hard. Lack of communication is how that simple work task becomes what you’re working on for the whole week. It’s how people lose touch over the years, or why your grandma complains that you never call her.
It’s also one of the reasons college students may misunderstand an assignment or have trouble understanding an idea. If we’re not communicating with our students and collecting feedback once they’re enrolled, we’re doing both them and ourselves a disservice. We essentially risk providing students with an educational experience that doesn’t meet their needs.
The first phase of communication to students in higher education institutions is during recruitment. During recruitment, you’re trying to show prospective students why your school provides an education that’s leaps and bounds ahead of others — personalized learning, adequate preparation for life beyond college, a strong sense of community, or that brand new rec center. What you’re doing is setting expectations for students, and getting them fired up to apply.
Once they’re enrolled, those promises don’t just disappear. Students remember them, and if that “personalized learning” is now done in a classroom of 300, the best-case scenario is that you have some angry emails from disgruntled students. But you also run the risk of losing those same students you worked so hard to enroll.
Communication is the key to keeping both recruitment and retention high. If a college isn’t delivering on what students were promised, then they run the risk of students dropping out and moving on to other institutions. Failing to deliver on promises is, of course, never intentional, but it often happens because the team recruiting students isn’t in alignment with the team working directly with the students. Both of these teams need to be in lockstep to be successful. At Make School, we follow these principles to achieve this goal:
- Align on the vision. What’s the unifying vision of the institution that all faculty and team members can rally behind? What’s that one message that drives them every day to create an amazing and memorable experience for their students? For Make School, it’s ensuring the relevance of education for the modern economy and accessibility to students of all backgrounds. If everyone is agreement on the overall goal, then the smaller goals that stem from it can be worked through together.
- Sync regularly. Team members from both the admissions and faculty side should meet regularly to discuss those smaller goals. Assumptions create room for error, and the only way to remove assumptions is to discuss them. This sync doesn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) be every day but find the cadence that works best for your teams.
- Allow and encourage change. The moment we use “this is the way it’s always been” as reasoning, we’ve already lost the argument. Education is always evolving, and as educators, we need to be flexible in our pedagogy. What’s worked for the last two years may need to be adjusted in year three to meet the needs of a new batch of students. At Make School, we’re continually updating our curriculum to be as relevant as possible to what students will experience in the industry. Curriculum designers also maintain communication with our admissions team so that recruiters know what to promote to incoming students.
- Provide a forum for student feedback. Collecting qualitative and quantitative data is incredibly important, but that data becomes even stronger when it’s paired with narrative, anecdotal data. We can capture this narrative data by having critical conversations with our students and providing them the opportunity to give feedback via a discussion with faculty. One way we accomplish this at Make School is by holding regular town halls with the entire student body. In a town hall environment, we provide students with a safe space to openly talk about what they want out of their education.
- Take action. This seems obvious, but providing multiple ways for students to voice their concerns is pointless if we’re not taking action on those discussions. Figure out the true reason behind student complaints, always asking “why?” until you find the root cause of the issue. Once you’ve found it, now you can begin the work of creating a solution.
Communication with students throughout the entire time they are connected with an institution is the key to recruiting and retaining students. If the teams responsible for recruitment and retention are not aligned, then one or both of them will fail. There are numerous ways we can address this and make sure that we’re heading in the right direction, but we need to remember to listen to our students. We should allow our students to be heard and consider their opinion when making decisions. Instead of thinking that we know what’s best for them, why don’t we just ask?
Make School is a two-year computer science college based in San Francisco that offers a Bachelor’s degree program in Applied Computer Science. The focus of Make School is providing product-based learning that prepares students for real-world careers in software development. Students graduate with an average salary of $95k.
To learn more about Make School’s philosophy, courses, and outcomes, visit our website.