Retention of current students is a top priority for senior college and university administrators, according to a new survey from the nonprofit student success organization InsideTrack.

The survey, which was conducted in early May 2020 and includes responses from almost 140 higher-ed administrators, gauges major student success priorities and challenges. Retention topped those priorities and challenges across the board.

Related content: 6 higher-ed management challenges facing leaders today

Even as institutions attempt to look to long-term strategic planning, most are still embroiled in short-term decisions related to the upcoming semester. When given choices ranging from the current spring term to 2021 and beyond, 77 percent of respondents said they are primarily focused on the fall 2020 semester. When asked for their top 3 student success priorities, retaining current students (80 percent), offering more online/hybrid classes (55 percent) and enrolling more students (48 percent) topped the list.

“While the pandemic has significantly disrupted college and university operations, the resilience and focus on student well-being that institutions have demonstrated over the past several months is encouraging,” says Dave Jarrat, senior vice president for strategic engagement at InsideTrack. “The findings of our survey highlight how institutional leaders are planning to direct resources as they seek to recover from the pandemic’s initial impacts on student success.”

This survey is part of InsideTrack’s ongoing efforts to provide higher education leaders and other stakeholders with unique and actionable insights on critical student success topics. The data is rooted in the direct experience of senior administrators managing student-facing functions, including student affairs, academic affairs, enrollment management and admissions.

Despite the rapid growth in working adult, online, and part-time learners over the last decade and the high numbers of these post-traditional students expected to pursue further higher education in an economic recession, most institutional leaders indicated they are much more likely to focus on enrolling traditional-aged, first-time, full-time residential students.

Among leaders at 4-year public institutions, 42 percent listed enrollment of so called “traditional” students among their top three priorities versus 15 percent listing enrollment of post-traditional students. At 4-year private institutions and 2-year public institutions, the results were 62 percent versus 16 percent and 34 percent versus 32 percent, respectively.

With institutions facing uncertain enrollments and budget shortfalls, leaders expect similar to lower budgets across most student success areas. They also expect to address their student success concerns through training and development of existing staff, as opposed to hiring new staff or contracting with outside services providers.

There are several areas where a significant number of administrators are optimistic about having additional financial resources, including student financial aid (53 percent), mental health/counseling services (38 percent) online/hybrid program development (34 percent) and closing equity/achievement gaps (26 percent). Respondents said they are most likely to leverage outside services providers to support mental health/counseling services (31 percent).

Although the top level results were fairly consistent across institution types and sizes, there were some distinctions, including:

1. 4-year private institutions collectively rated enrolling more first-time students (62 percent) as their second highest priority, ahead of offering more online/hybrid courses (46 percent).

Student retention is a top priority for higher-ed leaders

2. 2-year public institutions collectively rated retaining current students (73 percent) and offering more online/hybrid courses (71 percent) almost equally.

3. Larger institutions (27 percent) were three times more likely than smaller institutions (7 percent) to rate re-enrollment of students who had stopped/dropped out as a top priority.

4. Smaller institutions are more likely to enlist the support of outside service providers, except in the area of offering more online/hybrid courses, where mid-sized institutions (27 percent) are more than five times as likely as smaller and larger institutions (5 percent each) to seek outside support.

Material from a press release was used in this report.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Editorial Director, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura