Retention Issues in Higher Education

 Pre-Induction and on arrival

  • Is the tone of you communications with students supportive and accessible?
  • Do students have a named contact re queries pre-arrival?
  • Do you encourage students to communicate pre-arrival via social networking sites e.g. Facebook?
  • Are your induction events / Freshers’ events inclusive and setting a professional tone?
  • Is there a help desk facility for puzzled students?
  • Is your signage of building comprehensive and comprehensible (and do you supply helpful maps?).


Retention of international students: some important considerations

  • Is recruitment undertaken to ensure students have the potential to succeed?
  • Is induction framed appropriately to welcome international students?
  • Are steps taken proactively to ensure international students have a good chance of integrating with their study cohorts?
  • Is the right kind of support offered (language, crisis support, befriending etc?).


Enhancements to curriculum design and delivery: have you:

  • Explored how to best use the first half of the first semester to induct students into good study patterns and practices to enhance learning and improve retention (Yorke 2009)?
  • Reconsidered the kinds of activities students engage with the maximum ‘learning by doing’?
  • Rethought the way in which lecture periods are used to include activity as well as delivery?
  • Considered how to make best use of technologies to support learning and engagement?


What can we do in the first six weeks? How do you:

  • Enable students to feel part of a cohort rather than a number of a list?
  • Help students acclimatise to the new learning context in which they find themselves?
  • Familiarise them with the language and culture of the subject area they are studying (Northedge, 2003)?
  • Foster the information literacy and other skills that students will need to succeed?
  • Guide them on where to go for help as necessary?


Mapping out the programme as a whole: some questions

  • Are you ensuring that students are immersed in the subject they have come to study from the outset?
  • Is induction a valuable and productive introduction to the course?
  • Do students have a positive and balanced experience across the programme?
  • Are there points in the academic year when there doesn’t seem to be much going on (e.g. an extended Christmas break) when going home (and not coming back) seems like a good option?


Mapping assessment

  • Are summative assessments undertaken throughout the course, or is everything ‘sudden death’ end-point?
  • Is there excessive bunching of assignments in different modules that is highly stressful for students and unmanageable staff?
  • Are there plenty of opportunities for formative assessment, especially early on?
  • Are students over-assessed?
  • When you have introduced innovative assignments, have they been as well or instead of existing ones?


Mapping progression

  • Is there a coherent model of progression across the student life-cycle from induction to ‘outduction’?
  • Do you manage transitions from year one to year two and year two to year three to ensure students remain committed and engaged?
  • Is there some continuity in the sources of student support throughout the course (e.g. personal tutors)?
  • Are students offered support and guidance in relation to personal development and employability?


Useful references

Bowl, M. (2003) Non-traditional entrants to higher education ‘they talk about people like me’ Stoke on Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Brown, S. (2011) Bringing about positive change in higher education; a case study Quality Assurance in Education Vol 19 No 3 pp.195-207.

Cook, A. (2005) Guidelines for the Management of Student Transition: the STAR Project (Student Transition and Retention), Belfast: University of Ulster.

Dweck, C. (2000) Self-theories: their role in motivation, personality, and development, Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis: Psychology press: Essays in Social Psychology..

Kneale, P. E. (1997) The rise of the “strategic student”: how can we adapt to cope? in Armstrong, S., Thompson, G. and Brown, S. (eds.) Facing up to Radical Changes in Universities and Colleges, London: Kogan Page, pp.119-139.

Morgan, M. (2011, at press) Improving and Enhancing the Student Experience – A practical guide, London: Routledge

Northedge, A. (2003) Enabling participation in academic discourse, Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2003, pp. 169–180..

Peelo, M. and Wareham, T. (eds.) (2002) Failing Students in higher education. Maidenhead, UK: SRHE/Open University Press.

Yorke, M. (1999) Leaving Early: Undergraduate Non-Completion in Higher Education, London: Taylor and Francis.

Yorke, M. and Longden, B., (2004), Retention and Student Success in Higher Education, Maidenhead, Open University Press.